WINNIPEG -- Premier Brian Pallister said he doubts the hundreds of temporary layoffs at Manitoba Hydro will have an impact on service.

He noted that this largely has to do with the fact that the private sector has been severely impacted by COVID-19, and consequently Hydro doesn’t need to provide as much service as it normally does.

“I can only tell you that we’re in a pandemic and the fact of the matter is that every aspect of society is impacted by it,” said Pallister at a news conference on Tuesday.

“You can’t just turn away and hope it goes away. The reality is we’re in this together as a family. So every aspect of the private sector and the public sector is impacted.”

On Monday, Manitoba Hydro confirmed it’s temporarily laying off 600 to 700 employees beginning this week. A spokesperson for Hydro said this will provide about $11 million in workforce savings.

Crown corporations, universities and other public bodies were told by the Progressive Conservative government last month to map out three scenarios for reducing labour costs from May through August -- by 10, 20 and 30 per cent.

The temporary layoffs at Manitoba Hydro work out to more than 10 per cent of the full-time equivalent positions listed in the utility's last annual report.

The premier noted that every aspect of society has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the province has done everything it can to minimize any negative impacts on public servants, and the cuts impact less than two per cent of the public sector.

“We’re trying to make sure that the vast majority of our public servants aren’t impacted in a negative way by any of the decisions that we have to make,” Pallister said.

When asked how cutting costs at Hydro will help the government, Pallister said if they don’t make the cuts it will deepen the period of recovery and increase Hydro’s debt.

“We’ve overbuilt at Hydro, so we have a massive debt there and therefore would create greater likelihood that Hydro wouldn’t be able to contribute to the recovery going forward” he said.

The premier highlighted the fact that Manitoba is going to draw on its employment insurance fund for some of its workers.

“We can’t just borrow our way out of this pandemic,” he said.

The union that represents many office and technology workers at the utility said employees are already facing heavy workloads because of hundreds of job cuts the Progressive Conservative government undertook after winning the 2016 election.

"I know that CUPE members are working flat out and were already strained by the hundreds of people laid off in the last few years," Liz Carlyle, a negotiator for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, told the Canadian Press.

Unionized workers offered alternatives such as job-sharing, Carlyle said, but were told by the utility that the only options were temporary layoffs or a temporary eight per cent wage cut.

The utility said Tuesday it is willing to look at some options, but did not mention specifics.

"Manitoba Hydro remains open to working with our bargaining units to look at ways we can achieve the required savings, and minimize the impact on our employees and the service we provide to Manitobans," Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen wrote in an email to the Canadian Press.