The Manitoba government wants more than 6,200 government workers to take five unpaid days off before next April to help control costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A memo sent to workers Tuesday proposes the idea as a “potential pathway” to the government’s previously announced goal of saving $9.5 million, or 0.8 per cent, in core government labour costs. Other options floated by the province last month included wage reductions or temporary layoffs.
“In our view, this type of approach offers clear advantages,” reads the memo sent by Michael Richards, deputy secretary of cabinet, and Charlene Paquin, civil service commissioner.
The Progressive Conservative government has been pushing for labour savings across the public service —including core government, school divisions, universities and Crown corporations — in order to keep the deficit from rising.
Premier Brian Pallister has said the deficit could hit $5 billion due to a combination of increased health-care costs and reduced tax revenues from a recession.
Opposition NDP Leader Wab Kinew said cutting public-sector wages will only hurt the economy further.
“Overall, this is another move that is going to prolong the recession by taking spending power away from the average Manitoban,” Kinew said.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union said it will discuss the plan with its members.
“We’ve got a specific proposal that we can start looking at … but the province is still continuing to threaten us with hundreds of layoffs if we don’t accept these unpaid days off.”
The number of potential employees affected is roughly half of direct provincial workers, and would include managers and other non-union staff.
The memo came as provincial health officials announced there were no new COVID-19 cases to report, continuing a trend of zero or single-digit daily increases.
The province also revealed Tuesday new details about a case that had been announced on the weekend. The positive test result involved a retail worker who had last been on duty at a Walmart outlet in Winnipeg’s Southdale neighbourhood on May 9.
Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said the risk to customers who were in the store at the time was low.
“There wasn’t opportunities that there was close, prolonged contact with any customers,” Roussin said.
There have been 290 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in Manitoba since the pandemic started. With more people recovering, the number of active cases has fallen to 26.
If that trend continues, Roussin said the province may accelerate its plan to ease restrictions on public and business activities. A 10-person limit on public gatherings is already set for review on June 1, and Roussin said the limit may be raised sooner than expected.
“I do expect that certainly to be ahead of schedule from June 1. I don’t have the details on that today, but later this week, I will.”
Police, conservation officers and other personnel have been enforcing the public-gathering limit and other public health orders designed to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.
RCMP in Thompson said they charged eight people over the long weekend for violating a ban on non-essential travel to northern areas.
“In speaking with those that were charged, each individual indicated they were visiting friends and family in the Thompson area and knew that a travel restriction was in place but chose to ignore it,” said an RCMP press release.
The eight people — seven from Winnipeg and one from Dauphin — face fines of $486 each.