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Many Rivers counselling staff get lay off notices, as Yukon gov't withholds funding

Counsellors in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Watson Lake were on strike for more than two months and just returned to work Feb. 7.

Many Rivers not in compliance with territory's Societies Act, government says

The Whitehorse office of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The president of the Yukon Employees' Union (YEU) is calling on the territorial government to take over management of Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services, after unionized Many Rivers staff received layoff notices.

YEU president Steve Geick said he found out on Monday that all unionized staff were given notices. The layoffs take effect March 22, he said.

"It's time that someone has to step in here, get rid of this board ... and the management team, and run this place properly so the services can be brought back into the community," Geick said.

"I mean, this is life and death for people."

Around 20 Many Rivers employees in Whitehorse, Dawson City, and Watson Lake went on strike for more than two months and returned to work Feb. 7.

Steve Geick, president of the Yukon Employees' Union, said workers at Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services have received layoff notices. He says it's time for the territorial government to step in and take over. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

​Geick says management is laying people off because it doesn't have the money to pay them. He pointed to allegations made late last year that Many Rivers was not complying with regulations and its own bylaws. 

"They brought that on themselves," Geick said.

In a statement on Tuesday, government spokesperson Sunny Patch confirmed that Many Rivers is not currently receiving funds from the government.

"The Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services Society is not in compliance with filing requirements under the Societies Act and as such, the government is not able to release transfer payments to the society," the statement reads.

Patch says an independent investigation was done into the allegations against Many Rivers, and Yukon's Registrar of Societies is now reviewing the findings before deciding how to respond.

In the meantime, Patch said the government is aware of the recent layoffs, and "is working to ensure that Yukoners have access to the supports they need." 

CBC has tried to contact the new executive director of Many Rivers, Marina Bailey, but has not had a response. 

Geick says the funding issue shows that Many Rivers' management is "totally incompetent."

"They need to go ... They're incapable of running that organization in a proper manner, otherwise they would be in compliance."

5-year contract signed

In a news release issued after the strike ended, the union said the workers' new five-year contract included a seven per cent pay raise over the life of the contract.

It also said the deal allowed more flexibility "to respond to client scheduling needs" — something that was said to be a sticking point in contract negotiations.

Larissa Korns, a counsellor and member of the union bargaining team, told CBC in December that flexibility would allow counsellors to go into work early to prepare for a client, or stay late to finish paperwork.

The union says the new deal also meant Many Rivers workers would have better access to their employee assistance program, and would be able to meet with specialist supervisors during work hours.

With files from Jane Sponagle and Leonard Linklater

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