People on strike from Many Rivers hold up signs and flags along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Nov. 6. The NDP issued what it refers to as a ңall to actionӠover the strike that has lasted more than two months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Opposition calls for government intervention in the Many Rivers strike

Liberals say the government has no jurisdiction to intervene in the labour dispute

The NDP issued what it refers to as a “call to action” over the ongoing strike at the Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services Society.

On Jan. 17, Kate White, house leader for the NDP, told the News she’s gone through all the proper channels as far as asking the Yukon government to get involved in the strike, which has been ongoing for two months.

On Nov. 2, 18 counsellors and administrative staff with Many Rivers in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Watson Lake, and Haines Junction, began picketing. At this point, they have been without a contract for 600 days.

Negotiations have continued, but Many Rivers staff have publicly said that management hasn’t made enough concessions, most notably, around flexibility in work hours.

Management hasn’t responded to phone calls or emails from the News about the strike.

White told the News that the Yukon government keeps telling her Many Rivers isn’t the responsibility of the government, but she said things have come to a point where it’s time to intervene.

“It’s hard for the community,” she said of Many Rivers clients. She said it’s also hard on the counsellors. White joined the opioid march and vigil in December 2018. When it passed Many Rivers, she said counsellors were visibly crying as the march passed.

“They saw the community they’re supposed to be supporting, hurting,” said White.

“They should be helping and they want to be helping.”

White said mental health is a lower priority, and that the government can’t say it wants to kick stigma to the curb when it’s not also prioritizing mental health concerns.

Compounding problems is the fact that the society was found last year to be in non-compliance with the Societies Act after the board of directors failed to provide all members of the society with proper notice of a special general meeting in September, and an annual general meeting in November.

Janine Workman, a spokesperson with the Liberal cabinet offices, confirmed the Yukon government is responsible for the administration of the act.

“In response to Many River’s failure to meet its statutory filing requirements, the Registrar of Societies has launched an independent investigation,” she emailed the News on Jan. 18. “We believe this investigation will be complete in February. The results of this investigation will guide our next steps. As Many Rivers is not in compliance as a society under the Societies Act, the organization is no longer receiving funding from the Yukon government.”

Workman also said that the government has no jurisdiction to intervene in the labour dispute.

“Outside of our own public service, labour relations in the Yukon are governed by federal legislation. It is our hope that both parties are able to work together to find a resolution to this dispute,” said Workman.

Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services told the News in an email that mental wellness and substance use services, offered through the Sarah Steele building in Whitehorse, have increased drop-in hours, but that there hasn’t been a significant increase in demand for service.

She also said mental wellness hubs are staffed in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Haines Junction, and Carmacks.

Even so, Scott Kent, house leader for the official Opposition, said he’s been hearing from concerned Yukoners about the gaps in service.

“Yukoners have been without those services for several months and we would like to see government come up with a plan B, so Yukoners who need service can get it,” he said.

He said he doesn’t know what form that would take, whether it would be the government offering an alternative service, but something needs to be done.

“On the drive into work, I drove past the picket line and every time you do, you think about who’s being affected by this beyond the individuals on the line and the people that need these services,” he said.

“It’s starting to create a sense of urgency and angst. From what we hear, we know that mental health is an even more pronounced problem, from what I understand, in Canada’s north than it is in southern Canada, so it brings an additional urgency to this situation.”

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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