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Hundreds of Manitoba Hydro employees will be receiving layoff notices after the province directed the Crown utility to save costs during the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said the temporary layoffs are to last four months and affect 600 to 700 employees.

“As requested by the province, Manitoba Hydro has been reviewing its operations to find cost and labour savings to help support the government’s fight against COVID-19,” Owen said in an e-mail Monday.

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The utility expects the layoffs will translate into about $11 million in savings.

Last month, the Progressive Conservative government asked managers in the civil service, at Crown corporations, universities and elsewhere to draw up three scenarios of 10, 20 and 30 per cent for temporary job cuts. At the time, Premier Brian Pallister said the reductions would be reviewed to see which were best.

The government is estimating $2 billion in extra COVID-19 response expenses and $3 billion in falling revenues.

A spokesperson for Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said Manitoba Hydro’s management proposed the work force expense reduction, and the government expects the utility to pursue all constructive efforts to minimize layoffs.

Unions representing Manitoba Hydro workers said the layoffs will put the safety and reliability of public energy at risk.

“This is reckless. Manitoba Hydro is an essential public service that is operating at full capacity throughout this pandemic,” Michelle Bergen, president of CUPE Local 998, said in a release.

NDP Opposition Leader Wab Kinew accused the Tories of using the pandemic to justify layoffs that could cause “permanent damage to our most important Crown corporation.”

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Health officials reported two new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba on Monday to bring the provincial total to 289.

Chief public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin said two other cases have also been linked to a workplace cluster in the Prairie Mountain Health region – bringing the total there to 10.

While the first phase of the province’s economic reopening has started, Roussin reminded Manitobans to remain vigilant and keep taking precautions to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We are not done with this virus,” he said. “We could see a resurgence if we are not careful.”

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