Manitoba

Manitoba Hydro vows to minimize layoffs, reveal cost-cutting plan next week

Manitoba Hydro is vowing to lay off as few people as possible — after warning of as many as 700 temporary layoffs to meet cost reduction targets set by the provincial government. 

Hydro is trying to cut costs to appease government orders during COVID-19 pandemic

Manitoba Hydro is exploring a workforce cost reduction plan that it says will minimize the need for any layoffs. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Manitoba Hydro is vowing to lay off as few people as possible — after warning of as many as 700 temporary layoffs to meet cost reduction targets set by the provincial government. 

The Crown corporation will reveal its plans to reduce labour costs next week, Sharon Harrald, Hydro's vice-president, human resources and supply chain, said in a memo to staff on Monday.

"As committed, we are striving to minimize layoffs, while still achieving the required savings," the internal memo reads.

"This work takes time, requires consideration, with many decisions to be made." 

Harrald says executives are talking with the bargaining units and associations that represent Hydro employees as it devises a plan.

She says Hydro is also mulling the cost saving ideas brought forward by staff. 

No choice but to lay off: Grewal

The tone in Harrald's memo is a departure from the original letter written by Hydro CEO Jay Grewal earlier this month, when she said the public utility has no choice but to lay off workers to meet government requirements. 

At the time, Hydro was planning to cut 600 to 700 jobs for four months to find cost savings mandated by the province as it responds to the COVID-19 crisis. The measure would have provided around $11 million in savings.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034, which represents almost 2,300 Hydro workers, is pleased Monday's memo isn't promising hundreds of pink slips, but that doesn't mean they appreciate any of the proposed cuts.

"It is, I guess, slightly encouraging," business manager Mike Espenell says.

"There's still lots of unknowns. We still don't know, at this point, whether this level of cutbacks or austerity will be palatable for the current government or not."

Espenell says the workload for front-line Hydro workers hasn't decreased during the pandemic. 

Premier Brian Pallister has said he doesn't want any layoffs. He'd prefer if the federal government paid out employment insurance to Hydro workers who accept reduced hours. 

The government has maintained it must cut spending in non-essential areas to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen previously said as many as 700 layoffs may result in longer wait times for service requests and potentially more frequent outages that take longer to fix. 

NDP Leader Wab Kinew says cuts would harm the long-term viability of the Crown utility. 

"The government should stop trying to force Hydro to do something that's going to be very damaging to the corporation, that's going to be expensive for the bill payers and that's going to lead to all sorts of problems down the road."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from Bartley Kives

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