Manitoba

Temporary layoffs inexcusable when Manitoba Hydro expecting to profit during a pandemic: NDP

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says it is inexcusable that 200 employees at Manitoba Hydro will be temporarily laid off when the Crown corporation is expecting to profit this fiscal year.

Workers will be redeployed to address the layoffs, but Hydro boss says service to customers won't be affected

Manitoba Hydro says the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project began operating this month. Construction on the Birtle Transmission Project is also slated to begin in June. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew says it is inexcusable that 200 employees at Manitoba Hydro will be temporarily laid off when the Crown corporation is expecting to profit this fiscal year.

Hydro president and CEO Jay Grewal said Thursday the utility is forecasting $47 million in profit, even after the pandemic ravaged the economy and softened electricity demand in some sectors.

The estimate suggests there's no reason for labour cuts, Kinew said.

"What the CEO told us is that Manitoba Hydro is making money right now and they would still be making money on the year if they kept everybody working," Kinew told reporters, following a meeting of the standing committee on Crown corporations.

Hydro is going ahead with four-month layoffs for 202 employees — many of them front-line workers — to meet provincial demands to cut labour costs.

The Progressive Conservative government directed the utility to find $86.2 million in savings to help the Manitoba government respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Layoffs 'unfortunate,' but unavoidable: Hydro

Grewal called the layoffs "unfortunate" on Thursday, but said the corporation had no choice when it couldn't agree on a different method for labour cost savings with two unions.

Other employee groups at Hydro settled on three unpaid days in lieu of layoffs.

Despite repeated questioning at the legislative committee hearing from Kinew and NDP Hydro critic Adrien Sala, Grewal refused to bite when asked if the 200 temporary layoffs would detrimentally affect the utility's operations in any way.

She said there would be no impact on the service that customers depend on, however.

Manitoba Hydro is forecasting a $47-million profit this year, even as it incurs unexpected costs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Grewal noted some staff would be redeployed due to the temporary layoffs, but she didn't answer if any projects would be hindered.

"We have the ability in a four-month period to redeploy," Grewal said.

Kinew said there's no question that work will be delayed.

"Maybe they're going to pull people to help ensure that new housing construction continues, but what's going to happen to the area that they were pulled from?"

Hydro's boss told the hearing she did not tell the government to reconsider its demand for workforce savings.

"We're in extraordinary times," she said, referring to the pandemic. "Every member of government … stepped up to do their part." 

While Grewal said the Crown corporation's financial picture should be considered as part of the government's finances as a whole, she said Hydro was not transferring any of its mandated savings into provincial coffers.

Early in the pandemic, residential energy consumption spiked by nine per cent, Grewal told the committee. She said demand subsequently dropped in the industrial and commercial sectors, but not to the degree Hydro had forecasted.

She estimates COVID-19's impact on Hydro's bottom line would be $26 million.

New transmission line online

The corporation's president also updated the meeting on the status of several transmission projects, all of which are expected to be completed on budget.

The Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project began operating on June 1. The $490 million project will link generating stations in northern Manitoba through the Bipole III transmission line and across the U.S. border.

The Keeyask Generating Station is on schedule and on budget. The massive $8.7 billion project, along the Nelson River, is expected to be in service this fall.

She said construction on the Birtle Transmission Project, running from western Manitoba into Saskatchewan, will start this month. The price tag is estimated around $60 million.

Grewal did not answer media questions after the hearing. She said she didn't have time because she had a meeting with government officials.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Manitoba Hydro is forecasting $47 million in revenue. In fact, it is forecasting $47 million in profit.
    Jun 12, 2020 9:19 PM CT

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.

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