Ontario’s jail workers inked a deal with the province and averted a strike this weekend.
On Jan. 9, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), which represents about 6,000 correctional workers, reached a deal around 4 a.m., following a marathon bargaining session with the government.
The union said the collective agreement is a significant improvement from an earlier deal proposed in November, which workers had rejected by almost 70 per cent.
As part of the new agreement, wage increases will be determined by arbitration, in the same manner as police services or other essential service staff. Any disputes would also be settled by third-party arbitration, revoking employees' right to strike, which was something of a victory for the union.
“This deal satisfies the strong desire of our members to have their wages set at arbitration,” said Tom O’Neill, chair of OPSEU’s correctional bargaining unit. “Frontline correctional staff are first responders who deal with violence, trauma and tragedy in the normal course of our work, and we intend to be recognized for the vital service we provide in keeping Ontarians safe.”
The province echoed the sentiment in a joint statement from deputy premier and Treasury Board president, Deb Matthews and community safety and correctional services minister, Yasir Naqvi.
“This final agreement is the result of much hard work at the bargaining table by both sides, with the assistance of mediator, Gerry Lee. The outcome is consistent with the fiscal plan as outlined in the 2015 budget,” the statement said. “This agreement supports the government's ongoing efforts to eliminate the deficit while protecting the valued public services Ontario families rely on.”
Despite the improvements in the deal, OPSEU said more work needs to be done concerning staffing levels and employee safety in the province’s jails.
“This is a first step to stabilizing a correctional system that's in crisis, but it can’t be the last. Our jails are bursting at the seams and our probation officers have the highest caseloads in Canada. We're facing a severe staffing shortage. Violence continues to escalate. We want to be part of a constructive dialogue with the government on ways to ease this crisis and ensure the safety of the public, correctional staff, and inmates,” O’Neill said.
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