Manitoba Hydro is temporarily laying off as many as 700 employees for four months in an effort to save $11 million.
Layoff notices began going out to between 600 and 700 of the Crown corporation’s employees this week.
“As requested by the province, Manitoba Hydro has been reviewing its operations to find cost and labour savings to help support the government’s fight against COVID-19,” said Manitoba Hydro’s media relations officer Bruce Owen in an email. “All layoffs will follow the provisions of the collective agreements with Manitoba Hydro’s bargaining units.”
The utility’s unionized employees are represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Unifor and the Association of Manitoba Hydro Staff and Supervisory Employees (AMHSSE).
“This is reckless. Manitoba Hydro is an essential public service that is operating at full capacity throughout this pandemic,” said CUPE Local 998 president Michelle Bergen. “[Manitoba Premier Brian] Pallister has had his eyes on our public Hydro since he was elected in 2016. Pallister’s cuts are not to support the fight against COVID-19, they are purely political. This will be devastating.”
“The government’s demand for cuts at Hydro has been relentless,” said AMHSSE president Terry Dunlop. “The government is supposed to be supporting front lines workers and Manitobans. These job cuts hurt, not help.”
“It’s time for us to stand up for safe, reliable public energy,” said IBEW business manager Mike Espenell. “These mass job cuts will put Hydro in a dangerous position. We are working full-tilt and using safe practices during the pandemic. We are doing our part, coming to work every day. This pandemic could be a lot worse to handle if Manitobans in care, at home, at work and in industry have to wait longer for service because of Pallister’s reckless cuts.”
The unions says that Manitoba Hydro found savings in other areas and could have delivered equivalent savings over four months and proposed a work share plan as well as leaving vacant jobs unfilled but the premier insisted on job cuts.
Pallister said the jobs cuts are justified because construction projects have been scaled back and fewer in-person meter readings are bing done as a result of the pandemic.
"You can ignore the pandemic, increase the debt at Hydro ... and then we'll just have less money to work with going forward and a longer period of (economic) recovery,” he said, according to the Canadian Press.
“We have already been cut to the bone – Hydro’s annual payroll cost has been going down for four years,” said Victor Diduch, Unifor Local 681’s acting president. “To meet Pallister’s demands to cut costs, we are getting into the danger zone. It makes no sense to hammer workers – all that does is compromise our public hydro and gas service, and take money away from families who are trying to get through this crisis. Pallister is clinging to an austerity agenda during the pandemic, against all evidence.”
NDP opposition leader Wab Kinew said the layoffs are ideologically driven.
"This cut of up to 700 Hydro workers will do permanent damage to our most important crown corporation and could mean higher bills for families. The Conservatives are using the pandemic to justify these layoffs but in reality it's Mr. Pallister setting the stage for the privatization of Manitoba Hydro. Hydro itself has said more layoffs would put the safety of workers, Manitobans and the services they rely on at risk — something we can’t afford in the middle of a pandemic. But rather than invest in services and protect jobs, the premier ordered the biggest single-day budget cut in Manitoba's history. It will mean up to 700 families out of work, struggling to put food on the table, and a huge blow to our economy."