Frustrations mount as locked-out workers picket refugee settlement office in downtown Winnipeg
Client leaves Welcome Place empty-handed as non-profit says services will continue
Fatuma Omar showed up for an appointment at Welcome Place in downtown Winnipeg on Wednesday morning only to find its employees locked out.
"They didn't tell me," said the 27-year-old Somali woman, who scheduled a day off work to access refugee settlement services at the Bannatyne Avenue building.
After exiting the facility, Omar said people inside were willing to help but didn't speak her language. They told her she could also go to the Immigrant Centre a few blocks away, another non-profit offering services to newcomers.
"I'm not [going to the Immigrant Centre], because I need [my case worker]," said Omar, who arrived in Canada in 2019. "If he not, I'm not coming again, because I don't have time to come every day."
Omar left empty-handed with a looming rent assistance application deadline.
More than 20 casual and full-time employees at Manitoba Interfaith Immigration Council, also known as Welcome Place, took shifts picketing outside the non-profit's building on Wednesday, protesting a lockout that started the day before.
The lockout comes after more than 13 months of collective bargaining between CUPE — the union representing the workers — and Welcome Place, which lost a major contract two years ago that resulted in a 50 per cent staffing cut.
The council says the delay has "had a negative effect on MIIC's ability to accurately and effectively develop proposals to secure funding going forward."
"We need to realign our employee operational costs to match the internal changes made thus far and the continuing need for cost containment to ensure that Welcome Place can continue its mission to provide services to the refugee community," MIIC said in a news release Tuesday.
The organizational restructuring also led to an average 12.5 per cent wage cut for remaining employees, CUPE representative Scott Clark said in a Wednesday interview. But some of the issues in the dispute aren't primarily related to funding, he said.
"It's come down to the fact that the employer is asking for, not only a few … minor monetary issues but also a number of non-monetary issues that we don't think are really relevant to this discussion right now," Clark said. "The organization can remain financially viable with the arrangement that's currently in place."
'We are family here'
Some of the locked-out workers outside Welcome Place Wednesday morning brought signs reading, "We've sacrificed enough."
Among the group was Fadel Alshawwa, a refugee from the Middle East who arrived at Welcome Place with his family in 2015. The non-profit hired him later that year as an influx of other refugees arrived in Manitoba.
"[Welcome Place] is my home," Alshawwa said. "We have that passion that we are coming to help people, and this place is a lot for me and for other employees as well…. We are family here."
"I'm very frustrated," he said. "I don't feel good at all, because what [is] happening with us, it's not fair."
Alshawwa and Clark echoed concerns for clients of Welcome Place, who may be left without essential settlement services.
The council, which declined CBC's request for an interview, said in the news release it will continue providing services during the lockout but didn't specify further how it would go about doing that.
In an email to CBC on Wednesday, another nearby organization offering services to newcomers said Welcome Place provides unique services to refugee claimants.
"Mosaic is not equipped to provide those same services," said Val Cavers, executive director of Mosaic Newcomer Family Resource Network.
Locked-out workers say they'll picket every day until they can reach an agreement.
With files from Stephanie Cram