Deadline arrives for union response on unpaid leave for civil servants, but MGEU says it needs more detail

By | May 26, 2020

The deadline for a response on whether provincial employees will take five days of unpaid leave has arrived, but an answer from the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union has not.

The MGEU cannot support a plan to make around 6,250 employees take unpaid leave without more information from the provincial government, president Michelle Gawronsky said Tuesday.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said on May 19 it was told it had one week to endorse the proposal — part of the provincial government’s efforts to save money as it responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A meeting was held with provincial officials on Tuesday, Gawronsky said.

“They were hoping for an answer today,” she said. “When we were not able to provide the answer because we don’t have answers to the questions, they said they would go back and try and get us some answers.”

The MGEU needs to know which employees would be forced to take five days of unpaid leave, she said.

Gawronsky said she was told that employees from a wide swath of core government departments would be affected, but she still doesn’t know which ones.

“It’s not very much clarity,” she said. “We’re still not sure which services are going to be impacted the most.”

Essential employees in the clear

Central Services Minister Reg Helwer said in an email to CBC News last week that essential employees involved in the pandemic response, staff working in institutional settings, seasonal workers, and employees who already chose to take at least five days off voluntarily would not be eligible for unpaid leave

Gawronsky also wants the government to promise it will not lay off any civil servants if the union agrees to the unpaid leave proposal. She hasn’t received a guarantee yet. 

The government has presented the five unpaid days off as a necessity to avert temporary layoffs.

In a letter to civil servants last week, the province asked for support for its “top to bottom” strategy, which would affect deputy ministers, non-unionized executives, and both unionized and non-unionized staff.

“In our view, this type of approach offers clear advantages,” last week’s internal memo said, by “enabling … our collective ability to much more broadly and equitably shoulder a relatively modest financial impact.”

Half of the government’s nearly 12,000 civil servants within core government are expected to take part.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union, wants a promise of no layoffs if the province goes ahead with a plan for five days of unpaid leave for around 6,250 civil servants. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The five days off must occur in the current fiscal year. Employees may be able to take time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the memo suggests.

The government previously warned of much deeper labour cuts as the economy was taking a beating from the closure of non-essential businesses and inflated health-care costs connected with the pandemic.

In April, the province asked publicly funded bodies to draw up workforce-reduction scenarios of 10, 20 and 30 per cent over four months, but settled on a 2.2 per cent cut in payroll costs over the entire year. 

Within core government, the province decided on a 0.8 per cent reduction in payroll costs, or $9.5 million, which last week’s memo describes as a “very modest overall reduction.”

The province said Tuesday it would not comment on its progress on negotiating for unpaid days off.

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