The City of Surrey has temporarily laid off 2,016 employees because of the pandemic.
Councillor Linda Annis said Friday that city hall “hasn’t actually made an official announcement” about it.
“I do know that our library and all of our recreation centres and sports arenas and so-on have been closed for a few weeks now so unfortunately I think it was inevitable that there would be some layoffs happening,” she said. “You know it’s very, very tragic but I guess it really goes to show that no one’s really immune from the effects of the COVID-19 virus, which is very, very unfortunate.
“They are temporary layoffs,” Annis added. “The plan is once things return back to a state where we can actually open some of the city facilities again that it’s my understanding that these workers will be re-hired.”
Councillor Jack Hundial said the bulk is auxiliary part-time staff from museums, recreation centres and swimming pools.
“I think we’re going to be in for some significant belt-tightening in the city,” he said, adding that hopefully everyone will be returned to work. “We have great staff in the city, great individuals.”
Joey Brar, director of human resources for the City of Surrey, noted In an emailed statement from city hall Friday afternoon that since March 16 city-operated recreation centres, libraries, civic ice arenas, cultural facilities, museums and public pools have been closed on account of the virus, resulting in “temporary workforce reductions for part-time staff in Parks and Recreation and regular staff at the libraries.
“The City of Surrey is providing 28 days of pay continuity for part-time and auxiliary staff and 42 days of pay continuity for regular staff that have been temporarily laid off,” Brar said. “The temporary layoffs affect 1,276 part time/auxiliary staff who worked in 2020 an average of 2.7 hours per week prior to the pandemic. Approximately 600 part time/auxiliary staff who have not worked for the City this year but have worked some hours for the City within the last 12 months were also given notice. Many of the part time/auxiliary employees have other employment outside the City. 140 regular staff have been temporarily laid off by Surrey libraries. The staff reductions are exclusively due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are temporary.”
Meantime, both councillors are calling for a halt to the city’s controversial $129-million plan to replace the Surrey RCMP with its own police force.
“How can the mayor and council look taxpayers in the eye when people are losing their jobs and having difficulty making ends meet?” Annis said. “It’s cruel and unconscionable to be spending any time or money on anything other than the health and safety of our residents.”
She said the city needs to “shelve” the policing transition “at least until Surrey and its taxpayers are back on their feet. Spending time and money we don’t have on this proposal would be outrageous in the face of what our city and our citizens are facing right now.”
Annis charges there’s been a lack of transparency in the plan and claims every available dollar at city hall has been siphoned into the proposed transition.
“I think it’s important that our mayor and Minister Mike Farnworth put this proposal on hold immediately, and that we focus on the current crisis and rebuilding our economy when it’s over,” Annis said.
“Our city’s health and safety first responders are doing an incredible job alongside the dedicated team at Surrey Memorial Hospital. That’s where our focus should be right now. Our city has laid off employees and tens of thousands of Surrey residents are struggling trying to figure out how to pay their mortgages. Revenues at city hall have plummeted and there’s a new reality staring us in the face. We cannot afford to put any more time or taxpayer resources into a costly police transition proposal.”
On stalling the policing transition plan, Hundial said, “I’ve been a firm believer we need more transparency around the cost of this to date, and what the projected costs are and I think if there was ever a time for the city to pause on any one program of this magnitude, this would be the time to do it.”
Meantime, Surrey property taxes are due July 2, with notices to go out at the end of May.
“That I believe is still in discussions with the provincial government on what kind of relief,” Hundial said, “and I suspect it will be a co-ordinated province-wide decision for that, it would only make sense for all cities to act in a same or similar manner.”
From the City of Surrey’s perspective, Hundial said, “I think we need to look at some significant belt-tightening on initiatives that need to be put on hold and that we should get ready for when there is hopefully an announcement in the future on federal infrastructure dollars coming in for those shovel-ready projects such as our rec centres, pools, roadways, to start helping the economy move again.”