The Saskatchewan government’s termination of the Aboriginal Employment Development Program means the end of signed in-force partnership agreements with unions, employers and Aboriginal groups in the province. CUPE, along with other signatory unions, has called the move regressive and short-sighted.
“These partnership agreements have proven very successful in getting more Aboriginal people employed. We cannot understand why the government would get rid of initiatives like this which help to relieve the largest socioeconomic disparity in this country.” said CUPE National President Paul Moist.
Saskatchewan has the largest gap of employment rates between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal adults. In 2007, 88.3 per cent of non-Aboriginal adults were employed, compared to only 66.4 per cent of employment-age Aboriginal people.
The partnership agreements have resulted in thousands of Aboriginal people getting appropriate education and training and entering into the workforce. As of March 31, 2009 there were 98 active partnership agreements resulting in 4,465 Aboriginal people entering the workforce.
“This program was making major gains toward solving a problem,” said Tom Graham, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, which has signed 12 partnership agreements in the health care, municipal and education sectors. “Removing this investment in training, education and employment programs, will mean that this province is staring into a future more troubled than our past in terms of Aboriginal participation and the development of our communities.”
Partnership agreements help set the conditions for Aboriginal Peoples to become qualified to bid on any job, and provide a healthy and accepting workplace in which employees can access training to gain additional skills and qualifications. Recruitment and long-term retention flourishes under the partnership agreement program.
While the program had cost $780,000 per year, the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy calculates the cost of Aboriginal unemployment to be $2 billion annually.