Manitoba

East Side Road Authority employees get termination notices

The former head of Manitoba's East Side Road Authority says he believes the Progressive Conservative government is killing work on the East Side Road altogether, after almost 80 employees found out they will be out of work.

Provincial government begins transition of duties to Infrastructure Department

Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen said many East Side Road Authority staff members will be given an "opportunity to seek employment opportunities within the department" in the coming weeks. (CBC)

The former head of Manitoba's East Side Road Authority says he believes the Progressive Conservative government is killing work on the East Side Road altogether, after almost 80 employees found out they will be out of work.

The East Side Road Authority employees began receiving termination notices on Tuesday, advising them their last day of work at the agency would be Nov. 25.

The Progressive Conservatives announced in May that the East Side Road Authority — the provincial organization established in 2009 to build all-weather roads to remote communities on the east side of Lake Winnipeg — would be dissolved.

The responsibility is being transferred to Manitoba Infrastructure.

Ernie Gilroy, who was the road authority's CEO until he was replaced by a government bureaucrat in late May, says the province's latest move affects more than staffing.

"This isn't really about a dismantling of the East Side Road Authority. It's about the dismantling of the East Side Road project," he told CBC News on Tuesday.

"I mean, the East Side Road Authority created a thousand jobs and trained 325 people. What's going to happen to those people?"

Gilroy said the employees who are receiving termination notices include administrative staff and many people who work in the field.

"They're the ones that work directly with the First Nations — mentoring the First Nations, coaching the First Nations with their construction managers, construction inspectors and safety inspectors and environmental managers. These are all things you need if you are going to build a road," he said.

In a news release, Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen said the government is working to "reduce duplication and pursue a single source for the delivery of highway infrastructure in Manitoba."

"We are determined to minimize the impact of this transition on employees by ensuring maximum employment opportunities for those affected," he added.

"We will conduct both direct offer and competitive processes for ESRA staff to continue to have the opportunity to compete for open job opportunities."

The PC government has begun the process of dissolving the East Side Road Authority, which is responsible for building all-weather roads to remote communities on the east side of Lake Winnipeg. (East Side Road Authority handout)

'Who's going to do this work now?' union asks

Pedersen said many of the affected staff members will be given an "opportunity to seek employment opportunities within the department" in the coming weeks.

But Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said she's worried there may not be enough positions available for the affected employees.

The union confirmed there were 122 vacancies in the Infrastructure Department as of December 2015, she said.

"I'm a little bit confused there because this government's got a hiring freeze on, so we know from our members that vacancies are not being posted or being filled. So I'm not quite sure how these folks are going to apply for jobs," she said.

Gawronsky said the termination notices, which she learned about on Tuesday morning, are concerning because the work being undertaken by the East Side Road Authority have been major projects for the provincial government.

"So my question is who's going to do this work now?" she asked.

"If they're looking at our [Manitoba Infrastructure] folks to do the work for this, I don't know how they're going to possibly do it. They're already stretched so thin that there's no way they're going to be able to pick up the work of 70-some people. It won't happen."

Gilroy said the biggest losers in the province's decision will be numerous First Nation communities that have committed millions of dollars in the road project.

The $3-billion road, which was designed to connect 13 remote communities, is about 10 per cent complete, he said.

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