Ont. jail staff not on strike will have to show up for work, government says

TORONTO -- Ontario's deputy premier is firing a warning shot to the union representing public service employees ahead of a looming strike by jail guards.

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About 6,000 guards and probation officers could walk out at 12:01 a.m. Sunday and in that event managers from across the public service will be brought in to run the jails.

Smokey Thomas, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, has said he's concerned that the managers won't be able to ensure the safety of the other staff covered under a different contract.

Nurses, maintenance crews and kitchen staff will be expected to report for work, but Thomas has said he has advised them not to go in if they feel unsafe.

Deputy Premier Deb Matthews, responding today to a letter Thomas sent her Wednesday, says the government is committed to the well-being of its employees.

But she also says the government "will take the steps necessary to address such misconduct" if workers don't show up, as they can address safety concerns through the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

OPSEU and the government are meeting Friday with a mediator in the hopes of reaching a contract deal hours before the workers are set to go on strike.

The corrections workers rejected an earlier tentative settlement. Union bosses say the membership wants to be declared an essential service, so their pay would rise with police and firefighters in binding arbitration, but they would also lose the right to strike.

Tom O'Neill, the head of the corrections bargaining team for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, said they'll keep talking past Friday if progress is made at the table, but for now they're planning to walk out.

O'Neill said compensation is also an issue, especially after the government spent $58 million last year to top up managers' salaries, which had been frozen for years, while saying there is no new money for wage increases.

The earlier tentative settlement would have given the workers no raise in the first year of a contract, a lump sum in the second year and a 1.4-per-cent raise in the third year.

The union has also warned that managers will not be able to handle probation officers' caseloads.

"It's going to be a very bad situation if we do go out, not only in the jails but in the communities as well, because there will be no supervision for the offenders who are out in the communities on probation," O'Neill said.



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