Manitoba’s Crown-owned energy utility says it will be issuing temporary four-month layoff notices to 200 workers as part of cost-control measures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Manitoba Hydro said Friday it was unable to find alternatives to the layoffs with two unions — Unifor and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“As I have said previously, this was absolutely not our preferred course of action,” Jay Grewal, the utility’s president and chief executive officer, said in a news release.
The utility was originally looking at 700 temporary layoffs as part of an order from the Progressive Conservative government to reduce costs during the pandemic. But senior managers, engineers and others avoided layoffs in their sections by accepting three unpaid days off instead.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents office and technical workers, has been offered the same alternative, and Manitoba Hydro said discussions are to continue next week.
A spokesperson for Unifor, which represents emergency call responders and other workers, said talks aimed at avoiding layoffs — through unpaid days off or temporary pay cuts — broke down when the employer wouldn’t rule out more job cuts in the near future.
“We were trying to get some assurances that … if (workers) agreed to take some cuts, there wouldn’t be further layoffs. And, unfortunately, we weren’t able to get that,” said Gavin McGarrigle, Unifor’s western regional director.
Manitoba’s Opposition New Democrats said the temporary layoffs are unnecessary and will further hurt an economy that is already struggling due to the pandemic.
The job cuts came as health officials announced two new COVID-19 infections for a confirmed and probable total of 300.
The latest cases involve a Winnipeg trucker who had returned from out of province and a close household contact, said chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin.
Two cases announced last week were truckers who had returned from the United States.
Truckers are exempt from mandatory self-isolation requirements, but are offered COVID-19 tests in Manitoba even if they have no symptoms. Roussin said the government is advising the trucking industry how to stay safe.
“We’ve sent out a lot of guidance … on how to protect yourself while you’re away, and then upon return to monitor symptoms very closely,” Roussin said.
“And then, for the most part, to limit contact with others. Even though you’re not required to self-isolate for the 14 days, we still want to avoid large groups and things of this nature.”
This report by the Canadian Press was first published June 5, 2020
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press