Members and supporters of the Brandon and District Worker Advocacy Centre held a farewell event on Saturday ahead of the organization’s planned closure later this month.
The centre, located at 727 10th St., will officially close on June 20 after the provincial government chose to rescind its $75,000 in annual funding.
Kim Fallis, president of the Worker Advocacy Centre, said the group plans on biding its time, but she doubts the current government will change its mind about the funding.
However, she said the centre will apply for funding again at the first opportunity.
"Because we’re not going to go away quietly," she said.
The centre was established in late 2012 by the Brandon and District Labour Council and is run by a volunteer board, helping clients with a range of matters, including Workers Compensation Board claims, employment insurance hearings, disability, Rent Assist, and information on labour law.
The centre first received a notice that its funding was denied in May 2017 and in March 2018, a spokesperson for Manitoba Growth, Enterprise and Trade told The Brandon Sun that the centre duplicated existing services and that services for employees and employers were available through the Brandon District Office of the Employment Standards Branch and the Brandon Service Canada Centre.
Fallis said the Worker Advocacy Centre, which has served approximately 100 people a year since it first opened, offered a different kind of service to its clients.
"Just as a place to turn where they know they’re going to walk in and there’s going to be a person. It’s not going to be someone at the other end of a phone or on a computer," she said.
The difference, she said, was that the centre provided one-on-one service with someone who cares.
"They become people, not just a number, which the government seems to think they are."
Along with the provincial funding, the centre has received $2,000 grants from the City of Brandon — a $3,000 grant was returned this year, Fallis said — as well as donations from other unions.
The loss of funding from the province, however, did not come as a surprise to the centre at first.
This was the first time it has applied for funding to renew its two-year service purchase agreement under a Progressive Conservative government and speaking to The Brandon Sun in March, Fallis said as soon as the PCs got into power, she knew the organization’s days were limited.
Workers advocate Susan Norman, the centre’s only employee, said the hardest thing will be turning away clients, most of whom come to the centre out of desperation in the first place.
"It’s hard to say no," she said.
With the centre expected to close in the coming days, Norman said she has committed on following through with some of the WCB claims she took on previously.
Fallis and Norman said the United Steelworkers Union Local 7184 will take over the centre’s existing space.
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