Child welfare workers face contract uncertainty

Child welfare workers who serve the James Bay coast are now working without a contract.
Services and supports for at-risk children and youth and their families in the remote Northern communities serviced by Payukotayno: James and Hudson Bay Family Service, which includes Attawapiskat, are thread bare and understaffed, say the front-line staff at the agency focused on the well-being of children. (Google Earth)

Child welfare workers who serve the James Bay coast are now working without a contract.

The uncertainty is the latest hurdle for the Payukotayno agency which has struggled with funding and staffing issues in the past.

Three years ago, Payukotayno was on the verge of shutting down, but the province came through with several million dollars to help balance the books.

Payukotayno Child and Family Services

Payukotayno is a mandated Native Child Welfare Agency within the Nishnawbe Aski Nation territory, providing services to both native and non-native residents in the communities along the west coast of James Bay. These communities include Moosonee, Moose Factory, Fort Albany, Kashechewan, Attawapiskat and Peawanuck.The main goal of Payukotayno is to become actively involved in strengthening the communities by providing support and intervention services to families. Their objective is to help in "building healthy communities" which can only be achieved through strong partnerships with Chiefs and Councils.


But Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 4313 union president Mike Tomatuk said many of the challenges of serving remote communities remain.

"All of the communities being isolated makes it more challenging for the cost of living [and] transportation takes a big chunk out of it," Tomatuk said. He is a front-line worker at Payukotayno and represents the 100 direct support staff at the agency.

Contract uncertainty is adding to that stress.

A contract deadline passed early this morning. But the agency has not locked out the workers, and Tomatuk said the workers have chosen not to strike.

"We will be working without a collective agreement and the services will continue for the children, youth and families so they are not being left out at risk," Tomatuk said.

The executive director of Payukotayno declined an interview request, but told the CBC the agency is now waiting for a response on what it considers a final contract offer.

Tomatuk said the union is hoping to schedule more bargaining sessions in the hopes of avoiding a labour disruption.