An employee on leave from Atira Women’s Resource Society has come forward with serious allegations about the housing provider.
Ksenija Collinge, a peer manager, said in an interview with Global News that Atira does not provide a safe workplace and has taken advantage of staff.
“I want to feel safe when I go to work, first of all. Right?” said Collinge.
Collinge started working for Atira about seven years ago, eventually overseeing volunteers and support workers. The 49-year-old claims she was experiencing ongoing workplace harassment over a period of several months.
“I was managing an individual who was quite aggressive, had numerous complaints from the peers and other staff members,” alleges Collinge, who said the employee would routinely bring a knife to work and display aggressive behaviour at the office.
Global News has confirmed Collinge filed both an HR complaint and a worker’s compensation board report about the situation but has not verified these specific allegations.
“You just white knuckle it, until finally, you just can’t do it. It’s just not worth your mental health, it was straining my relationship,” said Collinge. “I’m actually scared to be walking around. They did nothing to support me, absolutely nothing.”
Now on a leave of absence from Atira following internal dispute resolution efforts, Collinge has been on employment insurance for several months – and said she feels forced out.
“They can’t accommodate me not working with this person if I was to go back now,” she added.
Collinge said her experience highlights the lack of accountability when it comes to workplace health and safety at the housing provider and believes staff retention is a key issue. She also said volunteers are exploited, by taking on the duties of paid support workers without proper training, especially in potential crisis situations on the Downtown Eastside.
Meanwhile, the BC General Employees Union said it has been approached by Atira employees eager to unionize, after a bombshell report about the housing provider was recently made public.
“Workers want to see more transparency and accountability,” said Kari Michaels, executive vice-president with the BCGEU. “We have heard about issues around bullying and harassment, and this is part of the reason why workers at Atira want to organize and form a union so that they can feel supported.”
Atira did not agree to an interview for this story. However, in an email addressing some of the allegations, their media relations team wrote in part, “Atira takes any staff complaints seriously. Our organization and its subsidiaries have almost 1,300 employees, including part-time employees. Typically, we have only a handful of complaints each year.”
Collinge said she doesn’t know what her future holds as she tries to find new employment, and hopes the organization will rebuild and listen to its employees about creating a safe environment for everyone.
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