By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government’s Crown energy utility is offering workers unpaid days off in an attempt to cut costs during the COVID-19 pandemic as a less severe measure than the layoffs that were proposed earlier this month.
In an email to employees Friday, Manitoba Hydro president Jay Grewal said executives, managers and engineers will take three unpaid days off before the fiscal year ends next March, and a similar option was being discussed with unionized workers.
“Our unions have been asked to respond by Wednesday of next week,” Grewal wrote.
Three weeks ago, the utility was seeking short-term salary reductions or up to 700 temporary layoffs to meet a directive from the Progressive Conservative government to cut $10.7 million. The government has also ordered universities, school divisions and other publicly funded bodies to cut labour costs to help lessen the pandemic’s fiscal fallout.
Manitoba Hydro says it managed to find millions of dollars in savings through early retirements, managing vacant positions and more. Combined with the unpaid days off for executives, managers and engineers announced Friday, that leaves only $4.3 million to cut.
“Three days of unpaid leave for every employee would eliminate layoffs entirely,” Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen wrote in an email.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents some 900 office and technical workers at the Crown corporation, said the drive to cut labour costs will hurt.
“CUPE Manitoba Hydro workers are front-line workers. We are essential staff,” said Michelle Bergen, president of CUPE Local 998.
“We have been in 100 per cent operation since this pandemic started.”
Provincial health officials announced no new COVID-19 cases Friday, leaving the total to date at 294. There have only been five cases reported in the last two weeks, and the number of active cases stood at 14.
The province’s chief public health officer, Dr. Brent Roussin, said two cases reported Thursday were travel-related. He did not provide details, but appeared to indicate the people had self-isolated.
“This continues to be Manitoba’s biggest risk, is importation of the virus,” Roussin said Friday.
“In this case, everything was done correctly and there’s likely very few contacts to these cases.”