A women's employment centre in Halifax is fighting to keep provincial funding, which is set to be cut at the end of June.
Women's Employment Outreach has existed for 36 years, and helps about 400 women a year access services such as resume-building and networking. It is entirely funded by the province, at a cost of $295,000, but it's set to shut down after funding ceases on June 30.
Last November, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education told the centre it would merge the Women's Employment Outreach service with other existing career centres.
The province has career centres in 12 communities around the province, which attempt to help unemployed people find work. The four employees at Women's Employment Outreach would each be sent to different centres.
"We feel that by only having one of our staff members within a generalized service, that service will get diluted over time," said Sherry Battiste, the finance manager and an employment counsellor at Women's Employment Outreach.
"Because you're not going to have the connection to the other staff, who are educated and have the passion to stay educated and connected on the issues that are relevant to women."
The organization would also lose its advisory board, the Women's Employment and Advocacy Society. Clients have not been pleased to hear about the change, and are signing a petition the organization launched Sunday.
"They're incredibly upset," said Sherry Battiste. She said clients come to the organization because they need help finding employment while juggling issues like child raising, health problems, and elder care.
"It also can be that women are not comfortable for religious reasons, or because of experiences of sexual harassment or trauma in previous workplaces or in their lives, that they're not comfortable walking into large centres," she said.
'They helped me tremendously'
"I didn't know where to start, and they pushed me in the right direction," said Robyn Preston, a former client. "That helped me tremendously. I wouldn't be where I am now if I didn't have them."
Preston now enjoys her job as the assistant manager of a Goodwill thrift store in Burnside. When she accessed Women's Employment Outreach in June 2015, she had recently divorced and was returning to the workforce after an absence of four years. Her children are aged two and four.
"They obviously needed to be put in full-time childcare for me to find a full-time job," she said. The organization helped Preston find information about childcare subsidies.
"I think they're important because they are kind of gender specific," Preston said. "They're there to help you with childcare, resume building, all of that stuff is crucial to finding a job."
The Women's Employment and Advocacy Society, which sponsors the group, has been pushing for funding to be continued. It is also pushing for the Anne Terry Women's Employment Project in Sydney to keep funding, which falls under the same decision.
Supporters of Women's Employment Outreach say it's important to maintain the programs because women are still disadvantaged when seeking employment.
"We have a lot of work to do in our province," said Christine Saulnier, the Nova Scotia director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
"Sixty-one per cent of minimum wage workers are women." Saulnier said the wage gap between men and women has also widened in the last 10 years.
There will be a rally in support of Women's Employment Outreach in Halifax's Grand Parade on Mar. 8, to coincide with International Women's Day.
The Department of Labour and Advanced Education wrote in a statement to CBC News that it is overhauling the employment services system in consultation with its 51 partners.
"There are organizations in the province doing great work, but the employment system as a whole is not working," wrote spokesperson Andrew Preeper in an email. "The system has become a patchwork where services are offered sporadically and inequitably across the province. There are also inconsistent standards, service offerings, and staff qualifications."
Preeper wrote that staff and more than 30 organizations are trying to finalize details of the new approach to employment services. He did not release specific details, but said employment services would be available for "specialized populations," with the goal of everyone around the province having access that meets their needs.
"The same amount of funding will be available for employment services after the transition as is available today," Preeper wrote. "We need to realign our funding to improve our system overall."