"It appears to me that the Department of Community Services is trying to wipe their hands of any responsibility when in fact they hired Harmony House and the individual who was running it as a service provider," Truro Bible Hill Millbrook Salmon River MLA Lenore Zann, told the Truro Daily News, regarding the department's handling of the situation after it ceased funding to Harmony House Residential Services last June.
Harmony House, which was owned by Rorie Digout, provided temporary housing for troubled youth in two homes, located in North River and Hilden.
Community Services Minister Joanne Bernard has "declined" to be interviewed by the Truro Daily News on the issue and CUPE national representative Grant Dart said the department has been refusing to meet with the union since the operations ceased, despite the fact the former employees are owed "thousands and thousands" of dollars in severance pay, retroactive pay, vacation pay and RRSP contributions.
"The department provided funds to the employer to provide retroactive pay to their staff according to their collective agreement entitlement," spokesperson Lori Errington said. "When the relationship with Harmony House ended in 2014, we took steps to address the financial issues with the provider and we are just as frustrated as staff that their retroactive payments have not yet been received.
"This is a matter between the employees/CUPE and their employer, which is Harmony House, not the department of Community Services."
Zann, however, said for the government to suggest it has "no obligation or responsibility to these workers is disingenuous, cold-hearted, and not true."
Zann said when the government issues a cheque for a particular purpose, it has an obligation to make sure those funds are received by the individuals it is intended for.
"Why would they just keep giving cheques without any accountability or record? It doesn't make sense to me," she said.
"If the DCS knew there was something wrong with Harmony House and stopped funding them last June, why did they not make sure the staff were paid instead of leaving it up to the individual who is now nowhere to be found?"
The Truro Daily News has learned that Digout now is living in the Shubenacadie area. Calls left on the voicemail at her residence were not returned by Wednesday evening.
Dart also questions the department's lack of responsibility in the situation and he too wonders why more isn't being done to find out what happened to public funding that was intended for the six employees.
"We find that incredibly confusing as well," he said. "She received that funding, she certainly hasn't distributed it to our members."