Union calls for employment agency forensic audit as workers prepare for layoffs

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The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union wants the province to conduct a forensic audit of an employment services organization in Cape Breton.

The province terminated its contract with Island Employment six months earlier after a damning report by Nova Scotia Ombudsman William A. Smith which found “misuse or mismanagement of funds or assets public ”at the Cape Breton-based agency.

But NSGEU chairman Jason MacLean said it was Island Employment’s unionized employees who lodged the complaints that led to the June 2021 ombudsman report.

“And now the government is punishing them for bringing this to their attention,” MacLean said.

“We absolutely have to get to the bottom of this because we have 30 people who are now being kicked out on the streets who are blacklisted and who are worried that they will not find work elsewhere.”

Layoffs coming next month

The 30 employees of Island Employment are expected to be made redundant in November.

The complaints filed by employees concerned the misuse of program funds, such as billing different contracts for the same services or expenses, including rental of space, travel costs and staff salaries.

MacLean said its members are innocent and it is the nine members of the agency’s board and management who are to blame.

The province has an expression of interest open until Nov. 4 to replace the agency, but MacLean said it should consider dissolving the Island Employment board and allowing employees to apply as cooperative.

However, he said the current expression of interest does not allow groups that are not already funded to apply.

“I just think the government is just lazy and throwing people aside rather than looking for other alternatives for someone to run this organization,” MacLean said.

The union is also preparing to file a complaint with the Nova Scotia Labor Council under the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act, which was designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, if the audit is not carried out.

Employees will be “treated fairly”, according to the ministry

The province’s Ministry of Labor did not respond to the request for a forensic audit in an emailed statement Thursday to CBC News.

The ministry said it was moving quickly to find a new service provider and encouraged Island Employment staff to apply for these jobs.

“We know the employees worked hard to serve their fellow Cape Bretoners. The concerns we had were with the management of the contract, not the employees,” the statement said.

“The Ministry of Labor, Skills and Immigration will ensure that they are treated fairly.”


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