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The Pallister government wants 6,250 civil servants, including managers as high as the deputy minister level, to take five unpaid days off before next April to help meet the province's pandemic-related cost-control targets.

A memo to workers Tuesday morning called the idea a "potential pathway" to meeting the objective of trimming Manitoba civil service costs by $9.5 million (or 0.8 per cent).

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.

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Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said while she believes the work reduction move is wrong, it's less "draconian" than the layoffs of up to 30 per cent in some areas the government had once contemplated.

She said the province has given the union a week to respond to the proposal.

The unpaid days off would affect roughly half the bureaucracy. As of March 31, 2019, there were 12,839 civil servants in Manitoba, about 2,000 fewer than when the Progressive Conservatives took office in 2016.

Gawronsky said what's unknown is exactly who would be required to participate.

"I won't say it's a good-news story. There's progress here in that it won't be as draconian as what they were threatening it was going to be. That said, what services are going to be hit?" — Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union

She noted workers had worried about being laid off for more than a month since the government made it known it was seeking to reduce employee costs.

"I won't say it's a good-news story," she said. "There's progress here in that it won't be as draconian as what they were threatening it was going to be. That said, what services are going to be hit?"

Central Services Minister Reg Helwer.

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Central Services Minister Reg Helwer.

In a statement Tuesday, Central Services Minister Reg Helwer said the plan would not include essential employees "delivering pandemic services," those working in institutional settings (such as corrections), seasonal workers or those who have already requested at least five days off through the government's existing voluntary reduced work week program.

"Specific proposals and details are being presented for discussion with both unions and our management and non-union staff," he said.

The civil service belt-tightening comes as the Pallister government seeks millions of dollars in spending reductions from Crown corporations, universities and other government entities.

"Specific proposals and details are being presented for discussion with both unions and our management and non-union staff." — Central Services Minister Reg Helwer

Manitoba Hydro is looking at laying off as many as 700 workers to meet government cost-cutting targets.

According to the government staff memo, "a significant portion" of the unpaid days could potentially be taken off between Christmas and New Year's Eve.

It reminds civil servants that, up till now, they've not been subjected to layoff or lost any pay or benefits. It repeated government estimates that expenditures will rise by $2 billion and revenues will plunge by $3 billion this fiscal year due to the pandemic.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said the $9.5 million in lost income for civil servants will only hurt the economy.

"We should be asking, 'How can we protect jobs and how can we protect people's incomes at this time?'" he said.

Kinew said reducing civil service pay around Christmas time won't help the retail sector, which is already having a tough year.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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