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City of Calgary to temporarily lay off part-time workers

Last Updated Mar 30, 2020 at 7:11 pm MDT

CALGARY (660 NEWS) — As the City of Calgary is being affected like any other business during the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary layoffs have now been announced.

Monday afternoon, City Manager David Duckworth said they are making some “temporary workforce adjustments”, meaning that part-time, casual and on-call workers will be let go for the time being.

“These are not permanent reductions,” added Duckworth. “We look forward to the time that we are able to re-open facilities and restore impacted services so we can bring our valued employees back to work.”

An official number could not be given at the time, but around 1,300 workers fall under the classification and could be susceptible to the layoffs — though not all of the 1,300 will be let go.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it was a very difficult decision, but it makes sense as many people are getting zero hours due to the closure of services such as recreation centres.

“There’s a lot of specifics around things like benefits that we are working through at the moment, but ultimately we are going to treat people as fairly as we can,” Nenshi said.

“If you are teaching a fitness class and that fitness facility is closed, you’re just not getting those hours. And for a lot fo these folks, it made sense to help get them into a place where they can access some of the federal and provincial government supports.”

Final details need to be worked out and many of the workers are still being notified of what is happening. Some will be given eight weeks notice, others will get longer, but supports and compensation will be worked out based on their time of service.

This follows an announcement from the City of Edmonton, where 1,600 people were laid off on Monday.

There are still numerous operations still going on at City Hall, such as building services, so people can still get permits for renovations.

Nenshi said everyone still at the city is working extremely hard, with over 10 per cent working from home now as well. But they have also taken a significant hit as many more are staying home sick or self-isolating.

For example, the transportation department normally sees about 200 people away on a given week due to average sickness or vacation days. Now, that number is up to 600 or 700.

In addition, Calgary Transit is seeing a major financial shortfall due to plummeting ridership.

“It’s real big,” said Nenshi. “We are down about sixty per cent ridership on the bus fleet, about eighty per cent on the train.”

“It’s in the order of six to eight million dollars a month,” added Duckworth.

With that, there are no plans to extend normal transit passes into April, after the City said low-income transit passes for March will stay valid until April 30. Nenshi is encouraging the remaining passengers to continue paying their fares so that the situation does not get worse.

Ultimately, it creates a wider issue for Calgary as the city is not able to have a deficit in the budget, so Nenshi said they have to keep a close eye on it and figure out how to make money back at the end of the year.

Another message was also passed along about the need to continue practicing physical distancing guidelines.

Nenshi said it is good to go out and get exercise, as long as you stay spread out, and encourages people to stay in their neighbourhood rather than drive somewhere so they can walk. Also, if you are on an isolation order you should not be venturing outside of your home.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson said people were doing good over the weekend while using parks and pathways, and one thing that helped was closing off some road lanes so that pedestrians could spread out further and take advantage of reduced traffic.

However, there are still some compliance issues — such as children using closed-off playgrounds — and if it continues, they may be forced to begin strictly enforcing the rules.

“Our whole thing right now is to spread the word, so we don’t spread the virus,” said Sampson.

He said they are focusing on education at the moment, so parents need to stress the need to their children to listen to these guidelines.

“It’s about talking to people and having them understand that you, the citizens of Calgary, can determine whether or not we have luck pushing this virus down or whether we have a problem,” he said. “And I ensure you that we will have a problem if you don’t physically space if you don’t wash your hands.”

“I never thought that, in the middle of this pandemic, one of the things we would be thinking about is playground police to pull the children off the swings,” added Nenshi.

Sampson agreed there’s no need for playground cops right now, as long as the compliance gets better.

He added that anecdotal reports of people being ticketed for not practicing physical distancing are false, and he is not aware of a bylaw or police officers issuing fines for that.

Finally, on questions about how the homeless can be helped during the crisis, Nenshi said they are doing everything they can at the moment, but decisions on overflow housing will have to come largely from the provincial level.

Some shelters are extending their hours to keep people safe during the day, but there is still a concern around a lack of bathrooms and other public space due to the closure of libraries or cafes or restaurants.

“This is just something that we are continuing to try to adjust to while making sure that everyone stays safe,” added Nenshi.

Earlier plans to use hotels as overflow space were cancelled by the province, despite local hoteliers enthusiastically coming out in support of helping.