“Time and time again, the contracting out of services has proven to cost more – both in money and in terms of safety.” – Bob Bymoen, SGEU President
Regina (31 Jan. 2017) — A report from Saskatchewan's Occupational Health and Safety Division (OH&S) confirms that contracting out court security is unsafe for workers and the public. The Saskatchewan government contracted out court security last year.
“The Sask. Party government’s attempt to save a few bucks by privatizing jobs has gone too far, causing unsafe working conditions and an unsafe environment in the courts,” said Bob Bymoen, the President of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU/NUPGE). “Given this report, the Ministry of Justice should immediately rehire all the Deputy Sheriffs of Court Security who were terminated.”
Number of Deputy Sheriffs at courts cut in half
Earlier this month, the Ministry of Justice replaced 14 Deputy Sheriffs with Commissionaires. This left a single Sheriff working with Commissionaires at perimeter screening, instead of two armed Sheriffs being assigned to that area as was previously the case.
Following that change, 2 Deputy Sheriffs exercised their right to refuse dangerous work under the Saskatchewan Employment Act, saying their work had become unusually dangerous without having a second Sheriff available. The Sheriffs had been trained to work in pairs to handle dangerous situations, such as controlling aggressive individuals, and Commissionaires don’t have the training or equipment to replace a Sheriff in that role.
Occupational Health and Safety Division agrees working conditions unsafe
The employees’ refusal to work was upheld by the OH&S Division, which has issued a notice of contravention to the Ministry of Justice.
“This report confirms what we’ve been saying all along,” said Bymoen. “Deputy Sheriffs of Court Security are trained, screened, and equipped to very high standards. Replacing them with Commissionaires compromises court security and the safety of workers – and the government’s OH&S division agrees.”
The Ministry of Justice said in a memo that while it reviews the OH&S Division report “staffing arrangements will remain as they currently are.”
“This is absolutely unacceptable,” said Bymoen. “The current situation has been deemed unsafe by the OH&S Division, and the ministry needs to take action immediately.”
Since the Saskatchewan Party government mismanaged the province’s finances to the point of a billion-dollar deficit, it has been trying to dig its way out of the financial mess by contracting out and cutting jobs.
“Government can file this report under mismanagement, along with all of its other bad decisions, such as giving $2 billion to a corporation in France to build the Regina Bypass, adding three extra MLAs at a cost of $700,000 per year, wasting hundreds of millions on overpriced consultants, blowing $47 million on smart metres, and the list goes on,” said Bymoen.
“This is just another poorly thought-out privatization scheme that is already costing more money,” he adds.
Staff cuts fail to produce savings
Since Jan. 4 – after the Sheriffs exercised their right to refuse dangerous work – the Ministry has had four staff – two Deputy Sheriffs and two Commissionaires – at perimeter screening at the provincial courthouses in Regina and Prince Albert. Previously, two Deputy Sheriffs were scheduled to work in this area.
“Whatever savings the ministry thought it was going to make from these job cuts are fast becoming expenditures, just as we suspected,” said Bymoen. “These courthouses are understaffed, and now the ministry is paying four employees to do the work of two Deputy Sheriffs. Where is the savings in that? This is just another privatization scheme gone wrong.”
When the ministry announced the Deputy Sheriff job cuts, Minister of Justice Gordon Wyant told the Leader-Post that he “didn’t want to give any general numbers, but [the savings] wouldn’t be certainly in the millions of dollars.”
“Why would the ministry turn security work over to contractors without knowing what the costs would be?” asks Bymoen. “Unfortunately, now we know the costs are high. It’s time for government to stop trying to balance the budget on the backs of workers by contracting out their jobs. Time and time again, the contracting out of services has proven to cost more – both in money and in terms of safety.”
Rehiring all terminated Deputy Sheriffs necessary for safe work environment
SGEU calls on the Ministry of Justice to immediately rehire all of the Deputy Sheriffs that it terminated.
“If, and when, the Ministry decides to comply with this report, it won’t be enough to simply move staff around,” said Bymoen. “With the current staffing levels since the cuts, assigning Sheriffs from other areas in the courthouse to perimeter screening just leaves these other areas of the court understaffed. We expect employee levels in the courthouses to go back to what they were pre-privatization immediately.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 370,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE