Ottawa

City places thousands on unpaid leave as losses reach $1M a day

The City of Ottawa put thousands of employees on unpaid leave Monday in an attempt to address the ongoing financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part-time, seasonal workers can now apply for federal aid

A pedestrian crosses O'Connor Street in quiet downtown Ottawa on April 6, 2020. The City of Ottawa says it will have to put more than 4,000 employees on temporary unpaid leave during the COVID-19 shutdown. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The City of Ottawa put thousands of employees on unpaid leave Monday in an attempt to address the ongoing financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

City officials said the pandemic and the associated shutdown of non-essential services is costing Ottawa $1 million a day in lost revenue. OC Transpo alone has seen a 90 per cent drop in ridership over the last few weeks.

To help offset the losses, more than 4,000 part-time and seasonal workers will go on unpaid leave while, Mayor Jim Watson said during a teleconference with reporters and other city officials.

Most of the employees work in recreation or cultural programming on a seasonal basis, while the rest work part time for the Ottawa Public Library.

"Although this is not the action we wanted to take for our dedicated employees, our human resources team deemed it was necessary to ensure their financial wellbeing as it will allow these 4,280 part-time employees to apply for federal supports," Watson said.

Layoffs to save $2.7M per month

The forced leave for part-time staff is expected to save the city $2.7 million a month, city manager Steve Kanellakos said.

In a news conference conducted by telephone Wednesday, Mayor Jim Watson and city manager Steve Kanellakos said over 4,000 part-time city staff have been placed on temporary unpaid leave, citing insufficient work during the lengthy closures. 0:55

More details on the savings are expected on Wednesday when city council holds its second virtual meeting since the pandemic began.

"Our expenditures are something that we have to try and reduce and slow down as we go. It's a big uphill battle to do that," Kanellakos said.

Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, secretary-treasurer for CUPE 503, confirmed that during emergency leave the affected workers will be eligible for the federal COVID-19 income support, and would still be entitled to group benefits.

Non-essential services and programs will remain suspended until at least June 30, Watson also confirmed Monday. That includes municipal swimming pools and arenas, libraries, all city parks facilities and client service centres.

Thousands of city employees are now on unpaid leave and things like parks and libraries won't reopen until at LEAST the start of July. 19:34

On Monday, Ottawa Public Health confirmed six people in the city had died from the coronavirus, while 370 people have tested positive.

Health officials believe there are thousands more undiagnosed cases in the community.

With files from Kate Porter

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