A new Brandon worker advocacy office will be set up after Manitoba Labour and Immigration cut a $56,000 cheque on Thursday.
The office and the advocate that will be hired to staff it are intended to help those who have had Employment Insurance, Workers Compensation Board or other government benefit claims denied.
Thursday’s announcement is a result of 12 years of lobbying efforts, Brandon and District Labour Council president Jan Chaboyer said.
"We are a volunteer organization and we find it’s incredibly difficult to work full-time and help those who are unemployed and are dealing with some serious and stressful situations in their lives," Chaboyer said. "They may be applying for EI and be denied, or they may be on disability for CPP or wanting to get CPP. They may be in need of income assistance and have no where else to turn. They need help."
Chaboyer said the fight for benefits workers are entitled to have, may involve dealing with multiple government departments — and that’s where an office and advocate in Brandon can help. A similar office in Winnipeg, opened since 1980, has claimed an 80 per cent success rate in fighting denied claims, Chaboyer said. She added that of the 153 denied EI claims, they fought and had reversed 128 of those claim denials.
Chaboyer said the investment will help the local economy in that the restoration of benefits paid to individuals will give them an income to spend in the local economy.
Brandon once had a workers advocate in the 1980s, but the position was cut and the office closed during the Progressive Conservative government of the 1990s. It took another 13 years after that government’s defeat to resurrect the position and office.
"You know, there was no easy funding source and the funding envelope that existed in the 1980s was completely eliminated," said Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell, who represented the provincial government at the announcement. "So there wasn’t a ready envelope available to fund this sort of office in Brandon. It was pretty formidable because we had to create a funding envelope for this."
Caldwell said funding front line services in education and health care was a higher priority when the New Democrats took power in 1999.
"This really did not emerge on the top of our ‘to do’ lists until quite a bit later in our mandate," Caldwell said. "Believe me, there was a lot of pressure and people asking why we weren’t speeding this up and I accept that. I also think it’s better late than never and I believe this will help moving forward. It generated several hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for families and individuals affected by decisions that denied them support."
The funding announced Thursday is intended as startup cash, and it is expected $75,000 per year will be needed to fund the office’s operations.
Brandon and District Worker Advocacy Centre president Del Davidson said they will attempt to secure funding from other sources as well as from government to meet that anticipated $75,000 annual need.
"We’ll be doing fundraising but the first job we have is to get the office up and running and hire an advocate and get them trained," Davidson said. "It’s a process that will involve a couple of months."
The office will be located in the Community Futures Building at 217 10th St., in unit 6.