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Brian Pallister takes pay cut as he pushes for public-sector cuts

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Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister is taking a pay reduction as he pushes public-sector workers to accept reduced hours or temporary layoffs.

Pallister said he is forgoing 25 per cent of his $94,000 base salary as a member of the legislature while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Part of that — about seven per cent — is not a cut, but a previously announced wage freeze that Pallister and all other legislature members have accepted since 2016 on their base pay. The remainder is a cut he recently decided to accept personally, he said.

The pay cut does not apply to extra money the premier earns on top of his base salary, along with other cabinet ministers, the official Opposition leader and others. In Pallister's case, the extra pay is just over $79,000.

The gesture comes at a time when Pallister has issued an ultimatum to civil servants, Crown corporation workers and others across the public sector — accept reduced work hours to free up money for health care, or face temporary layoffs.

"We need to find hundreds of millions (of dollars) and we are going to find those resources," Pallister said Tuesday.

"Not just by borrowing on Manitoba's future, but by looking within our organization to find resources in areas where people are not able to serve the public right now."

Last week, the Progressive Conservative government asked managers in the civil service, at Crown corporations, universities and elsewhere to draw up three scenarios for temporary job cuts of 10, 20 and 30 per cent.

Those plans were due Tuesday. Pallister said they will be reviewed to see what reductions are best.

Already, some Crown corporations have cut.

Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries, which operates two casinos and a smaller gambling club that have been closed by public-health orders, has temporarily laid off almost 1,300 workers, says a statement from Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton.

Manitoba Public Insurance, which reported a 48 per cent drop in reported vehicle collisions in April compared with the same time last year, said it has not cut staff yet.

"The corporation has been having on-going discussions with the union as to a positive solution for staff during this COVID-19 pandemic," spokesman Brian Smiley wrote in an email.

Manitoba Hydro did not provide numbers, but said work during the pandemic has been scaled back.

"Over the last number of weeks we have eliminated non-essential work and adjusted our operations in accordance with the guidelines established by public health officials to protect the safety of our employees and our customers," spokesman Bruce Owen wrote in an email.

Health officials announced one new COVID-19 case Tuesday, bringing the total to 255. The province has seen a recent trend of more people recovering from the novel coronavirus than testing positive for it. The number of active cases has dropped to 99.

Pallister announced two financial aid measures for businesses hit by the pandemic's economic fallout.

One will see $37 million in surplus money at the Workers Compensation Board returned to employers across the province. Sometime in May, companies are to receive a 20 per cent refund on their total premiums last year.

The province will also put up $16 million to join in a new federal program that offers loans to commercial landlords who reduce or forgo rent for small businesses during the pandemic.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 21, 2020

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