Province’s push for big cuts results in 2.2% workforce reduction

By | May 4, 2020

The premier’s initial push for cuts across the board to the public sector has resulted in more modest reductions than previously thought, as the province looks for savings amid the costly coronavirus response.

A series of workforce reductions and saving measures will help the government save $860 million and funnel more resources to the front-line fight against COVID-19, said Manitoba Finance Minister Scott Fielding on Monday.

About 100 government departments, post-secondary institutions and Crown corporations found 4.9 per cent in non-essential operating expenses and 2.2 per cent in non-essential workforce expenditures in recent weeks. They were facing cuts of up to 30 per cent.

“We’ve been impressed by the creativity and innovation the public sector has delivered,” Fielding said, adding many staff and resources have been redeployed to help in the health-care system. 

“We hope to continue to work with the unions to avoid layoffs.”

But it’s still unclear what that 2.2 per cent workforce reduction will look like in specific sectors, said the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union. 

“Is that 2.2 [per cent] in each and every department, or is that 2.2 [per cent] of the whole broad range of everybody in civil service?” said Gawronsky.

“We still have no answers on who this is affecting, how many cuts there are actually going to be, are they permanent cuts, is there a way to redeploy people. Again, we have the same questions over and over.”

Michelle Gawronsky is president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. ( Tyson Koschik/CBC)

Roughly $500 million of the savings come from limiting discretionary spending in core government programs, $86 million is tied to what Fielding described as other reporting entities — such as universities and boards — and $82 million is from Crown corporations. The rest of the projected savings come from workforce reductions, Fielding said.

The public sector was asked to find ways of cutting non-essential spending that could be redirected to the COVID-19 health-care response. Some departments were facing orders to find between 10 and 30 per cent cuts that unions feared would result in layoffs.

Fielding said the reductions were all in the name in trying to minimize the number of public sector layoffs. 

“That’s really been important to us and the driving factor behind this,” he said.

Fielding said the government continues to look into reduced work weeks and work-sharing programs.

Many of the reductions have already happened through temporary layoffs, including at casinos, that resulted from wide-ranging closures to non-essential businesses in the weeks after the first COVID-19 cases were identified.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew suggested the government workforce reductions could hurt the province’s economic recovery. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said reducing the province’s spending and workfoce isn’t how to build back the economy.

“$860 million is the biggest single-day budget cut in Manitoba’s history,” Kinew said in a statement.

“This isn’t how you support families in a crisis — it’s how you flatten an economic recovery. The premier should be protecting jobs, investing in our economy and giving families the direct financial assistance they need to survive this pandemic rather than force through ideological cuts.”

Fielding said the province is facing an estimated $5-billion deficit. About $3 billion of that is tied to a drop in revenue and $2 billion associated with procuring personal protective equipment and other costs of the COVID-19 response, Fielding said.

$500M in savings from reductions to core government spending include:

  • $93 million allotted to “accounting errors” or “fake funds.”
  • $140 million from the “ideas fund,” which is for finding efficiencies in government and long-term investments.
  • $100 million earmarked for emergency expenditures.
  • $40 million previously reserved as part of the province’s overhaul to the health-care system.
    $120 million tied to asset disclosures.
  • Additional savings from cancelled conferences, travel and more.

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