Maison d’amitié, which operates the only two francophone shelters in Ottawa, is putting vulnerable women and children at risk by imposing a three-week deadline to reach a deal with its unionized employees, say frontline workers at the Ottawa refuge.

Frontline workers at Maison d’amitié – which employs an entirely female workforce to counsel and assist other French-speaking women who are fleeing violent and abusive situations – expressed shock and dismay at their employer’s demand for a “no-board report” from the Ministry of Labour. This report starts the clock ticking towards a strike or lockout that could begin as early as November 20.

“This is a hugely irresponsible move on the part of Maison d’amitié,” charged Jacynthe Barbeau, a national representative with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents workers at the agency.

“Negotiators for Maison d’amitié seem to have decided that disrupting vital shelter services for a highly vulnerable group is somehow preferable to bargaining a fair, first contract with their dedicated workers.”

Forty women from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities work at Maison d’amitié. Every day, they respond to the emotional and physical needs of francophone women and families who have lived through violent and abusive situations. The workers run programmes for women and children that include individual and group counselling, interim support programs, and supports and services for victims of sexual violence.

Noting the current explosion of awareness of the damage done to women because of abuses of power, Barbeau commented on the irony of Maison d’amitié’s reckless decision to threaten not only its workers with labour disruption, but the desperate families who rely on the services these workers provide.

“Can those who are in charge of Maison d’amitié not realize the potential damage they are causing?” Barbeau asked. “It is absolutely appalling that this employer would jeopardize vulnerable women and children in this way.”