Province extends 5 days of unpaid leave to hundreds of non-unionized workers

By | July 3, 2020

The Manitoba government is ordering 560 employees to fall in line and take five days off without pay to save money during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province previously negotiated the same five days of unpaid leave this fiscal year with several unions, which affected thousands of employees.

As of Monday, the same order came into effect for non-unionized government employees, after the lieutenant governor signed off on cabinet’s decision, the government said in an email.

NDP House leader Nahanni Fontaine slammed the province for what she called a unilateral decision.

“I can’t stress how disrespectful it is to civil servants to not even allow civil servants to be able to negotiate, or agree, or even have any knowledge that the government was going to make these changes and force folks to take five unpaid days — it’s pretty gross.”

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said it’s “colossally unfair” the order was imposed on these workers.

Labour cuts during pandemic: PCs

“The most important rights that we have is the right to be able to negotiate the value of your own work, and that’s being taken away from people,” Lamont said. 

Since the height of the pandemic, the Progressive Conservative government argued it must cut labour costs to pay for rising health care costs and other response efforts while revenues are plummeting.

The province’s reasoning has been slammed by opposition parties and unions, which have maintained cutting jobs or reducing hours does nothing to stimulate the economy. 

Still, four government unions accepted the unpaid leave in exchange for a no-layoff guarantee. The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union said it begrudgingly accepted the plan to save jobs.

Protesters set up shop outside the Manitoba Legislature in May to draw attention to the province’s job and services cuts. (John Einarson/CBC)

The government previously said 6,250 employees would be impacted. That number included the 560 non-unionized employees, as the province was anticipating they would be subjected to the same unpaid leave provisions, a spokesperson said.

“Premier Pallister and his senior staff continue to lead by example by taking a pay cut that is above and beyond this agreement. These measures are being done to support the COVID-19 response and recovery efforts,” the government said in a statement.

Around 900 staff in total are not unionized, including government employees in the executive council and technical officer staff, who could have been affected by the new regulation.

But some employees voluntarily took days off, or are excluded based on their position — independent offices such as the ombudsman and auditor general — or role in the pandemic response, a government email said.

Discounting those groups, approximately 560 staff are affected.

Legislative staff excused from unpaid leave 

Some legislature staff are excused from taking the reduced work week.

Staff belonging to the Legislative Assembly Management Committee, which includes party caucuses, clerks, chamber security staff and pages, did not reach a consensus and thus don’t have to take the days off. 

The LAMC, which operates under a consensus model, wouldn’t tell CBC News how many staff they have, though they cut 16 per cent of their total staffing budget through layoffs in March and April.

In early June, Civil Service Minister Reg Helwer wrote a letter calling on the chair of the LAMC to urge employees to take the unpaid leave. The letter commended MGEU workers belonging to the auditor general and children’s advocate offices with taking part.

Minister of Central Services Reg Helwer urged the Legislative Assembly Management Committee to accept five days of unpaid leave, but the all-party group couldn’t reach a consensus and thus did not have to take part. (Ian Froese/CBC)

MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky said her members had no other choice.

“Our members said to be able to save jobs, to be able to better pay their mortgage, to be able to look after their families, it was better to lose five days pay than it was to lose their job.”

The government said the Progressive Conservative caucus, though part of the LAMC, voluntarily accepted the five days of unpaid leave.

A spokesperson said other parties should follow their lead “to avoid creating a two-tiered compensation system where the staff of the legislative assembly, including the staff of the opposition parties, are paid more than their colleagues in the civil service.”

Lamont said his staff is working harder than ever, as constituent concerns have risen sharply during the pandemic.

Other government staff don’t deserve this either, he said.

“This is basically conservatives blindly following ideology that doesn’t work and then getting angry when other people won’t do it.”

Gawronsky said the government’s demand for workforce cuts in the civil service still boggles her mind.

She said correctional facilities cannot go without nurses and the trades instructors who prepare meals when they’ll be on unpaid leave. She said the province will have to incur overtime costs or find replacements.

“There’s no common sense here to me at all.”

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