Negative reaction to employment program changes

Andrew Robinson
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Minister Joan Shea says 226 jobs affected by necessary move

Joan Shea

A move by the provincial government to change how employment assistance services (EAS) are provided through third-party agencies is not receiving universal applause.

Last Friday, the Department of Advanced Education and Skills announced that third-party groups will no longer handle EAS for employment insurance (EI)-eligible clients as of June 1. The department will take over those duties.

The same release said service providers affected will be given a three-month extension until June 30 to conclude their work.

In an interview with The Tele­gram, Minister Joan Shea said the move will affect approximately 40 such agencies and 226 related jobs.

The John Howard Society of New­foundland and Labrador is among those groups that currently provide EAS. It helps former in­mates readjust to life outside prison.

“We were completely taken by surprise,” said Cindy Murphy, executive director of the John Howard Society. “There was no consultation. There was no indication whatsoever that the government was contemplating this move, and this is a contract that we had for more than 30 years.”

The news release issued last Friday by the province made reference to “feedback from clients, staff and the public” in relation to its decision to change EAS.

For most of those 30 years, the John Howard Society’s contract was with the federal government, but the provincial government inherited it along with all other EAS contracts in 2009. Shea said the province was obligated to maintain those contracts until March 2012, at which point her department offered a one-year extension.

Murphy said clients served by the John Howard Society have specialized needs and require “a lot of support to help them reintegrate safely back into the workforce with their multiple barriers.”

In 2012, offices for the John Howard Society in St. John’s and Stephenville served 400 people.

Jobs lost

Murphy expects the changes announced by the government will affect two or three positions with her organization. They were involved in employment counselling and securing funds for employment and education, among other tasks.

Those duties will now be the responsibility of staff within the Department of Advanced Education and Skills through 14 career centres and

12 satellite offices.

“That is extremely problematic in our opinion,” said Murphy, “because here you have what we think is upwards of 200 people who are providing those services across the island, who have been impacted, and all of a sudden the Department of Advanced Education and Skills is going to take on that responsibility in a hiring freeze. We just don’t understand how that’s even plausible.”

According to Shea, the move will place all employment services provided through the provincial government under one roof, metaphorically speaking.

“It’s levelling the playing field,” she said. “Making sure we have a one-stop shop.”

Shea added under the current setup, funding applications for individuals still had to come through the department for final approval.

“So even though everyone who is not EI-eligible came through the provincial system anyway, the ones who went through these contracted services had to still come back through our offices for final approval and have a worker assigned as well.”

The provincial government has already said cuts can be expected in the upcoming spring budget, but Shea said the changes announced Friday would have happened regardless.

Funds specific to programs and services for EI-eligible residents  — $14 million — are made available to the province though the Labour Market Development Agreement with Ottawa.

“There is no reduction in that agreement,” said Shea. “This money will be redirected to ensure that people have access to post-secondary programs or have the financial ability to be able to prepare themselves to go back to work. So there is no budget reduction. The difference is how we deliver services.”

The NunatuKavut Community Council also raised concerns about the move by Shea’s department.

The council said, in a news release, that EAS offices in Cartwright, Port Hope Simpson, Charlottetown and St. Lewis will be lost, labelling those areas as “vulnerable and economically fragile.”

“For people to avail of opportunities which exist in Labrador, we need these services to create a level playing field so we stand some chance at getting jobs,” said council president Todd Russell. “The Department of Advanced Education and Skills has made a grave error in judgment.”

Shea said an office in Mary’s Harbour, primarily responsible for income support, will begin to provide services to EI-eligible residents in that region.

Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said the move by Shea’s department appears to be more about eliminating jobs than providing a better service.

“These agencies have been working to help thousands of people across the province find work to support their families for decades,” said Parsons in a news release.

“Minister Shea isn’t just eliminating the middle man; she’s taking the axe to workers who play a vital role sustaining economic development in our communities.”

Twitter: @TeleAndrew

With files from Ashley Fitzpatrick

Organizations: Department of Advanced Education and Skills, John Howard Society, NunatuKavut Community Council

Geographic location: Labrador, Ottawa, Cartwright Port Hope Simpson Charlottetown Mary

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Recent comments

  • reg mac donald
    March 09, 2013 - 09:41

    its just another blow to out port nl there are no alternatives for the people relying on those services in these communities we cannot jump in our car and drive to another office as the minister suggested . we are on a island 10 miles from any highway please ms shea these decisions were done hastily and not considering these out ports .needs a review

  • Concerned
    March 05, 2013 - 20:21

    I had the good fortune to work with one of these community organizations before I moved on to start my own business - we ran some very good, 4-week employment programs and I regularly see participants from those programs who are still working today in the job or the field we helped them get into. It is gratifying to see the change they've made in their life and to hear the positive effect they feel this has had on their children - all they needed was support and skills development in an encouraging and welcoming environment. For many people, a good, short program was all they needed. Every one person we helped get to work was one person/family off the provincial government's social assistance caseload. This pays off very, very big over the long run for everyone. So it is very short-sighted to simply cut all funding from all organizations doing this work in the community! Yes, Government does provide employment counselling but they will not do it as well as those trained in the community sector can do, nor will clients be as comfortable to avail of services if they have to walk into a Government office to get them. This was part of the reason we moved these services out into the community years ago! Also, Government staff will not be able to deliver this kind of intensive 4-6 week programs that community organizations deliver near as effectively or as affordably as some community organizations have been doing. I had to go into one of the Career Work Centres today (to meet a friend who works there) and I actually watched the woman working at the front desk for a while, as she greeted clients who came in. Not one smile, not one encouraging word, no effort to put them at ease and welcome really depressed me to think that anyone believes they will be able to do this work as effectively as community-based organizations have been doing it. Go look for yourself if you don't believe my account. This has long been a problem in this Department. I agree there may have been some necessary cuts made and efficiencies found, but that should have been done through a sensible and evidence-based process, not in this broad, clumsy fashion. From what I've heard from staff in the Department of AE&S, even those who worked closely with community organizations around their funding were not consulted on this decision. It is simply an uninformed and lazy decision made by the Minister and those close to her, with no clear base of evidence. This is a real loss that will cost us. Many of these organizations were doing really excellent work, and were very effective at reaching into some target neighbourhoods, communities and high-risk populations that Government will never be able to reach. Some of them should most definitely be continuing their work. But all have been thrown out with the bathwater. This gap will cost us all more money over the long-term, as greater numbers of people remain unemployed and unemployable and on income support from Government which means of course, from our tax dollars. I for one, would much rather see my tax dollars spent more proactively. I would like to see this decision repealed and a reasonable review process put in place to ensure that the organizations who were doing good work and helping people become employed are able to continue it.

  • jake
    March 05, 2013 - 16:56

    Hey Minister Shea, why don't you take an early retirement? Anyone can spew out the Premier's mantra. She doesn't need an entourage of MHA's to stand in front of a camera with the PC script of the day. Just rewind and play again.

  • Todd Wight
    Todd Wight
    March 05, 2013 - 13:20

    Another nail in the coffin of rural communities who need this support. In less than 12 months we have lost our RED Boards and now seeing the closure of employment support centres. Economic development and job opportunities are at an all time low in our rural communities. The money for these offices comes through a Federal Labour Market Development Agreement and I'd hate to think that Federal $$ earmarked for training will be going to the Provincial deficit reduction strategy. Let's all remember that we elected these folks and they are supposed to be working for us!

  • We Can't Have Our Cake And Eat It Too
    March 05, 2013 - 12:58

    If we are to have high-paid, political patronage appointments, then we have to lop off 3.5 public servants for each Tory plum position. We simply had no alternative; our friends come first; we can't have our cake and eat it too; love, Kathy. PS: Look at the bright side; each of you people can move on; you're all educated, trained and qualified, and capable of competing in the private workforce; not like our stool pidgeon appointees.

  • MadBadDangerous
    March 05, 2013 - 11:30

    Take a careful look at yourself and your career choice. If there is even a remote possibility that you could, at some point in the future, find yourself without a job, need transition to a new career, or seek to start a small business of your own, this government would prefer to watch you twist in the wind. These are your elected leaders NL! They favor hereditary power and privilege. Your ambition and desire to get ahead through hard work mean nothing to them unless you already have enough cash to buy and sell them.

  • NL Lobster
    March 05, 2013 - 11:13

    The only thing that bothers me more than some unemployed layabout is someone who is working and making more than me (you're over-paid and lazy) or someone making less than me (you're just lucky to have a job, you uneducated worm). I despise those who are getting EI (cheats) almost as much as those getting social assistance (cheats and drug addicts). People should not expect job security (which I have) and take anything they are given (which I will never have to). I'm glad the government has made these tough decisions (that affect neither it nor me) and I encourage it to pursue more cost-cutting measures on social services (those that assist the overpaid, lazy, cheats, and addicts, but NOT mine). It’s time these people (everyone else except me) make sacrifices (get sacrificed) so that taxpayers (me, and only me) aren’t penalized (make sacrifices) for our success (having a position that isn’t economically viable for anyone but me to have). What good is a “have” province if the “haves” don’t “have.” God bless me.

  • Go Figure
    March 05, 2013 - 11:00

    This is so pathetic. Is Premier Dunderdale Anti proverty or Pro poverty? She won't touch the senior staff or management of her little empire, but she definitely is out to to hit the rural areas. OMG, she's a female Harper clone! I can see it coming, the population exodus from NL and the welfare crowd remains. Every week we shall see some other "friday announcements". I certainly hope her government had a good sleep. She, nor her croonies won't be there on my next vote.

  • TJ
    March 05, 2013 - 10:27

    I am appalled by the comments made by Minister Joan Shea. I cannot believe that this Minister and department thinks that they can take over all of the services being offered to clients right across the province. Do they realize how much time goes into working with a client. For example the Skills Development process can take up to four months of employment counselling before a client is ready to submit an application for funding. There are times that we meet with clients who are never involved with the department. We deal with all of there issues in employment counselling. This decision must be reversed for the good of all the people in our province who find themselves unemployed and under-employed. Unfortunately this number is growing with all of this governments job cuts!

    • Joannie
      March 05, 2013 - 16:48

      Oh, but Joan Shea is going to create a strategy for enticing workers and their families to the province. And what about the human fall-out of this announcement by the PC's? Well perhaps Minister Shea can gift some of them a political appointment somewhere.

  • TJ
    March 05, 2013 - 10:23

    I am appalled by the comments made by Minister Joan Shea. I cannot believe that this Minister and department thinks that they can take over all of the services being offered to clients right across the province. Do they realize how much time goes into working with a client. For example the Skills Development process can take up to four months of employment counselling before a client is ready to submit an application for funding. There are times that we meet with clients who are never involved with the department. We deal with all of there issues in employment counselling. This decision must be reversed for the good of all the people in our province who find themselves unemployed and under-employed. Unfortunately this number is growing with all of this governments job cuts!

  • david
    March 05, 2013 - 10:17

    I prpose the government issue all of us commemorative fridge magnets of Hibernia, Whiterose and Terra Nova. I think that would be a fitting way of remembering the era that really shaped the future of this province. Who knows...maybe they'll become highly collectible, and some people other than politicians will sell them and get some benefit.

  • Sharon
    March 05, 2013 - 09:50

    This is incredibly short sighted. The irony is that at a time when the Federal Government is sending EI staff out to check up on people to make sure they are looking for work and not abusing the system, the Provincial Government is taking away supports in place to help people access services for employment and re-training. This decision is going to create barriers for people and put a large number of others out of jobs. Currently people needing these services can go to organizations that provide them with a non-judgmental, supportive environment. with employment counsellors who are professional and have the expertise to deal with all situations respectfully. This is truly a terrible, short sighted decision that makes no sense. But when we are talking about services for those most vulnerable it seems the Provincial Government doesn't care. Our society is only as good as how we help those most vulnerable in need of a helping hand to improve their circumstances. Unfortunately this doesn't seem to matter to the decision makers.

  • dan
    March 05, 2013 - 09:36

    No worries the feds are gonna take back all of that funding anyway. Remember this next election people, ABC in NL

  • Danny
    March 05, 2013 - 09:33

    Maybe will stop ppl from quiting jobs to try and get E.I under false pretenses.. hmmmm to many ppl still abuse the system.

  • Robert
    March 05, 2013 - 09:14

    Eliminating all these agancies, and laying off 17 people in the Department tasked with serving all the displaced clients IN THE SAME DAY. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to predict how that will work out. How does this fit in with Government's Anti Poverty Initiative, I wonder?

  • Jackie Barrett
    March 05, 2013 - 08:54

    If Joan Shea thinks that cutting funding to Employment Assistance Service agencies will improve service, she is definitely seeing the world in "Rose Coloured Glasses". In fact, when I was living in Halifax, I used to get employment service through their disability partnership known as "TEAM Work Cooperative" and their employment service agency called "The Work Bridge". When former Human Resources and Skills Development Canada provided funding to "TEAM Work Cooperative" and their affiliated organizations, disabled persons had access to great employment services and wait periods were short at less than a month. However, in the mid-late 2000's, due to significant funding cuts at "TEAM Work Cooperative/The Work Bridge", and reductions in Job Developer/Employment Facilitators, disabled persons had to wait up to four months to get intake and service appointments, and their services were substandard. Based on my experiences receiving employment services in Nova Scotia, if Joan Shea thinks that cutting funding to Employment Assistance Services will improve overall service, it will not; in fact, it will make it worse.

  • wade
    March 05, 2013 - 08:37

    That is a poor title to a sad story. The negative reaction has not changed. It is becoming increasingly negative. But hey they are doing such a great job with education and health care, just as well to turn this over to government too.

  • Audrea
    March 05, 2013 - 07:44

    "It’s levelling the playing field,” she said. “Making sure we have a one-stop shop.” So let me guess, services are being routed to Stephenville. afterall this is Ms. Shea's riding. St. John's misses out again I bet.

  • tom
    March 05, 2013 - 07:14

    I would love to meet the people who makes those suggestions. Not the ministers It would be nice to know how they came to those cuts and the reasoning behind it..Are there people working in the gvernment who are twiddling their thmbs all day and now they have something to do and also did the people administering those programs make more money than government workers Personally other than tossing people in turmoil I can see no reson to do such a thing

  • hslaw
    March 05, 2013 - 07:02

    well you know that all te clients involved are domed When ever the PRFESSIONALS within the provincial govenment puts teir hands ino anything it is ALWAYS disastrus