Labour minister says there will be no forensic audit of Cape Breton employment agency

·3 min read
Labour Minister Jill Balser says the investigation into Island Employment is complete. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
Labour Minister Jill Balser says the investigation into Island Employment is complete. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

There will be no forensic audit of Island Employment despite a request from the union representing staff at the Cape Breton organization, said Nova Scotia's labour minister Friday.

Jill Balser said the government already has all the information it needs from an ombudsman's report filed earlier this year that led to the province ending its contract with Island Employment six months early.

"Based on the report from the ombudsman, we feel that that information was disclosed," Balser told CBC Radio's Mainstreet Cape Breton on Friday.

"That's what we made our decision on was the mismanagement of funds.... So that and our own internal review, the investigation was complete."

The province ended its contract after a damning report from Nova Scotia ombudsman William A. Smith that found "a misuse or gross mismanagement of public funds or assets" at Island Employment.

Staff being punished for filing complaint, says union

The Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union said this week that it was unionized employees at Island Employment who filed the complaints that led to the ombudsman's June 2021 report.

"And now we have government punishing them because they brought this to their attention," said union president Jason MacLean.

"We absolutely need to get to the bottom of this because we have 30 people who are now being thrown out on the street who are being blacklisted and are afraid that they will not get a job somewhere else."

Island Employment's 30 employees are set to be laid off in November.

Brittany Wentzell/CBC
Brittany Wentzell/CBC

The complaints filed by the employees surrounded the misuse of program funds, such as billing different contracts for the same services or expenses, including rental of space, travel expenses and staff salaries.

MacLean said his members are innocent and it is the agency's nine-person board of directors and management that are to blame.

The province has an expression of interest open until Nov. 4 to replace the agency, but MacLean said it should consider dissolving Island Employment's board and allowing the employees to apply as a co-operative.

However, he said the current expression of interest does not allow groups that aren't already funded to apply.

"I just feel government is simply being lazy and tossing people aside as opposed to looking for other alternatives for somebody to run this organization," said MacLean.

Union says it will file complaint

The union said Thursday it would file a complaint with Nova Scotia's Labour Board under the Public Interest Disclosure of Wrongdoing Act, which was designed to protect whistleblowers against reprisals, if the audit isn't conducted.

Balser said the Labour Department is moving quickly to find a new service provider, and she encouraged Island Employment staff to apply for the new jobs.

"We know the employees have worked hard to serve fellow Cape Bretoners. The concerns we had were with the management of the contract, not the employees," the department said in a statement it emailed to CBC News on Thursday.

"The Department of Labour, Skills and Immigration will ensure they are treated fairly."

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