The Canadian Press
REGINA — The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union says the government has cancelled a meeting to discuss the need to hire social workers to fill vacant positions, especially in the north.
SGEU president Bob Bymoen said the number of vacancies has hit a critical point, especially in the north where six girls committed suicide in the fall.
The union said in October the government identified more than 30 vacant positions in the north.
Bymoen said only 12 social workers have been hired for jobs north of Prince Albert, and seven of those posts are part-time or term jobs.
“Northern communities are dealing with tragic losses,” Bymoen said Friday in a release.
“They’re grappling with severe and complex social problems, including devastating suicides among young people.”
The union said Social Services Minister Tina Beaudry-Mellor cancelled a meeting set for Tuesday, saying staffing issues should be raised at the bargaining table.
Bymoen said he hopes Beaudry-Mellor will reconsider the decision to cancel the meeting.
Deputy minister Greg Miller said the government is trying to hire more social workers to help vulnerable children and their families, but it is challenging to recruit qualified people.
“We are reaching out to post-secondary institutions to determine what opportunities may be available to better connect to recent and upcoming graduates of the Bachelor of Social Work and Bachelor of Indigenous Social Work programs,” Miller wrote in an email.
“To temporarily address service needs, we have been deploying staff from other offices and will continue to do so as needed to serve our vulnerable families in the north.”
Miller said the government will be holding more interviews in coming weeks to fill vacant jobs.
He said deputy and assistant-deputy ministers in the ministry are willing to discuss any questions or concerns the union has about social worker staffing levels.
But the Opposition NDP said the worry is that this has reached a crisis situation.
New Democrat David Forbes said they are deeply concerned about the social worker shortage.
“Our members in the north have raised the flag about getting on this. Yeah, it’s difficult to fill _ we understand that,” he said.
“There are challenges, unique challenges to the north, but you’ve got to be on it all the time. You can’t wait until last minute and then discover that you’ve a problem.”