WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government is asking its Crown corporations, universities and other publicly funded bodies to map out temporary workforce cuts of up to 30 per cent.

The province sent a memo last week to various agencies asking that they cut spending to free up money for health care and the battle against COVID-19.

The memo asks each group to lay out three different scenarios for workforce reductions in the next four months -- 10 per cent, 20 per cent and 30 per cent.

Those plans are due this week, and Premier Brian Pallister says the province will discuss what changes can be realistically achieved.

The Progressive Conservative government has already asked non-front-line civil servants to agree to reduced work weeks to help free up money.

The University of Winnipeg says it has already laid off recreation staff and others who provide services that require students to be physically on campus.


Both the Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations and the Canadian Federation of Students – Manitoba say they disagree with what the provincial government's requested cuts.

The students' federation said the cuts would be disastrous for post-secondary institutions.

“Short-term economic relief is important, but it should not be a motivator of a fiscal policy that seeks the easy way out,” Qudus Abusaleh, the deputy chairperson of the federation in Manitoba, said in a news release.

"These cuts should not come at the expense of students who are already experiencing high levels of anxiety brought on by transitioning to online courses, having their graduation plans sidelined, and being in the dark over summer employment and government assistance."

The federation also said since Brian Pallister's government came into power, universities in the province have struggled with tuition fee increases, tuition tax rebates being eliminated and cutting to public funding.

The federation said it feels now is the time for the government to invest in future workforce development and support post-secondary institutions.

The Manitoba Organization of Faculty Associations (MOFA) shares a similar sentiment as the student federation.

It said it understands these are tough times, but making cuts is out of step with most provinces.

"We reject Mr. Pallister’s decision to expand austerity during this economic crisis," the association said in a news release.

It said those who will be affected most by this decision are Manitoba's youth as the job market has dried up for 15 to 24-year olds. It said universities are a place for young people to go to prepare for that.

"Yet at this time when universities are most needed by Manitobans, during an unprecedented economic storm, Mr. Pallister chooses to dismantle the storm shelters, our universities."

The association added that Brandon University and the University of Winnipeg will not be able to survive as "full-fledged" universities if they must implement cuts of 30 per cent.

"We therefore reject Mr. Pallister’s agenda of cutting expenditures on such essential services during these perilous times: Mr. Pallister himself admitted that cuts to the public sector would cover only a dime of every dollar of deficit financing needed to see Manitoba through the crisis. That level of saving is not worth gutting institutions that are an essential part of the economy and social fabric of Manitoba."

-This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2020