Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The Yukon Federation of Labour (YFL) will not be receiving funding from the territorial government this year because it does not fit the criteria, a spokesperson confirmed today.
That’s according to Andrew Gaule, a director of business and industry development with the Department of Economic Development, who also added that the organization is not a registered entity in the territory.
He told the Star early this afternoon that the department is “going through its process a little bit more thoroughly than in the past,” especially after receiving a large number of funding requests from non-profits in the territory.
It’s also in response to a 2017 Auditor General of Canada report, which detailed government transfers to societies – something Gaule said led the department to consider “tightening up” its process to check more thoroughly whether societies applying for funding are in fact legal entities in good standing with the power to enter into contracts.
The YFL has not provided sufficient evidence that it can do that, Gaule said, noting it can be done either under territorial or federal statute.
But Justin Lemphers, the president of YFL, explained that the organization should derive its authority from its parent organization, the Canada Labour Congress.
“We confirmed with our parent body that they are a society pursuant to federal law, we gain our validity through” them, he told the Star last Friday.
He added that YFL has provided that information to the department, but feels it has not yet clarified why that is not sufficient.
Gaule explained that may require the YFL incorporating under the Societies Act, something Lemphers said it may consider.
“The key difference is the department tightened up its process with respect to checking the transfer payment recipients – whether or not they’re societies,” Gaule said.
When asked whether or not that meant that the YFL (or other recipients) should have indeed not received funding it did between 2001 and 2017, Gaule responded that “it’s possible that funding was provided in previous years incorrectly.”
That nothing may have changed on behalf of YFL or its application in previous years to this year is possible, he added – but that has left Lemphers frustrated.
The federation was notified that it would not receive funding earlier this year last February, after having submitted a proposal which was reviewed by the department in October 2017.
Lemphers is still unclear on how and why the YFL no longer fits the territory’s mandate.
“The reason that YFL exists isn’t because of some economic stimulus – it’s because YG saw a need to have a resource to help workers who don’t have any other protection, that don’t have a union to look out for them,” he said.
He fears cutting funding could be sending the wrong message to workers in need.
Lemphers noted those workers include people who could have experienced human rights abuses, those subject to illegal working conditions, and those injured at work.
“There’s a whole litany of things we get called on for,” he said, adding that the group has received funding for more than a decade from the territory.
He called the funding amount that is being cut “enormous,” with some of the $36,000 going toward offering services like referrals or “helping shepherd complaints or concerns through various government processes.”
His frustration also comes after he was told by Ranj Pillai, the minister in charge, that something could be done to look at other avenues to fund the YFL.
“We have been told throughout the summer by the minister that they’re working on something – yet the officials we correspond with are telling us no.”
What that something is, remains to be known.
“Something is awfully ambiguous,” Lemphers continued, adding that discussions have been taking place from as early as February to this month.
While Gaule acknowledged that the work done by the YFL is of value, it would have to prove its legal entity status as a society to be reconsidered for the funding.
“Although very important, the activities for which YFL requested funding in October 2017 didn’t align with the department’s funding program priorities.”
Those priorities may have been more emphasized especially with the department fielding an increased amount of requests, he added – something that is out of the control of the branch.
What is in control of the YFL, though, is applying for legal entity status – something the department is not forcing the federation to do one way or the other, he clarified. “They may not want to do that; that’s their choice.”
But the department must still “prioritize where funding goes – that’s by linking it back to our core mandate areas.”
Gaule continued that “I don’t see legal entity as being a showstopper other than the fact that they actually need to establish it.
“The broader issue is the linkage to the department’s mandate.”
Lemphers also takes issue with this.
“I would hope that YG has a mandate to support workers,” he said, frustrated that the value may be overlooked in denying the organization funding.
“While (the department) may say it doesn’t fit within their mandate, there is a value to having a workforce that knows what their rights are, knows what their responsibilities are.
“By ceasing to fund the YFL, the government won’t be able to meet their mandate of having labour at the table for those conversations,” Lemphers said.
He sighed: “We would like some clarity from YG about whether or not funding can be reinstated, whether or not they’re willing to recognize YFL’s legal status.”
Ultimately, it may even boil down to the message the government is sending to employees: about “whether or not they’re willing to support Yukon workers, whether or not it’s within their mandate letter.”
Lemphers insisted that nothing had changed on the YFL’s end, which Gaule also suspected.
During the renewal process, Lemphers said there were efforts to ensure “we’re still able to offer the same services we’ve offered in the past.
“To offer that continuity to workers and (ensure) that we meet our purporting requirements for YG – which we have done without fail over the last 20 years.”
For his part, Lemphers said it seems to be a waiting game until the YFL gets more clarity, but fears how long that could be and what it could mean for the organization.
“The future is uncertain,” he said, noting that while there have not been any service interruptions yet, the federation has tried to trim operation costs wherever possible.
Gaule clarified that the funding request had been denied.
“We’re in a position where we can carry on for a little while longer,” Lemphers said.
He predicted that as early as spring of next year, there may be a scaling-back of services.
If funding is not secured soon, Lemphers added that on a day-to-day basis, it could also mean reduced office hours and scaling down on rental space to a smaller location – also hindering the YFL’s ability to host training and workshops at its current Fourth Avenue location.
“The point at which we would have to start turning away people simply because we don’t have the capacity to help workers anymore, that is going to be a very sad day.”
Ultimately, the cancellation could be chalked up to internal change within the department by taking a more thorough process to ensure the entities applying for funding had legal entity status, as well as external factors of receiving more funding requests.
“At the same time, there’s a bit of nuance there,” Gaule said, noting that the entity status is “100 per cent in the control” of YFL.
A YFL webpage lists about seven affiliates - among them are United Steelworkers, the Yukon Employees’ Union and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
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