N.S. restorative justice caseworkers prepare to strike
A handful of caseworkers in Nova Scotia’s restorative justice program are hitting the picket line Monday morning.
Unionized workers say they've been negotiating with the Community Justice Society since late last year, but those talks have broken down, and they're left with no other choice but to strike.
The restorative justice program has been offered to youth over 12 in the legal system since 1999, but in 2016, Nova Scotia became the only province in the country to expand its restorative justice program to include adult offenders.
Workers say since then they have seen a large increase to their work loads, without an updated contract or increase in pay.
“In 2016 we saw 248 files; in 2017 we had 617 files, so it was a very significant increase, 149%,” says restorative justice caseworker Shila LeBlanc. “Really the workload itself has become a bit more complicated in terms of the situations we're seeing, but it's also so much more work for the exact same number of staff, with no additional funding whatsoever."
The restorative justice approach allows offenders and victims of crime to work together towards a resolution, without the offender going to prison.
"We look at the root cause of the issues, getting people the support they need, giving communities support, giving the victim an opportunity to have a voice through the justice process, those are all things the court system doesn't typically allow," Denise Russell, president of CUPE Local 4764.
The unionized caseworkers work for the Community Justice Society, a program funded by the department of justice.
In a written statement, government spokesperson Andrew Preeper tells CTV News, “It is unfortunate that the union and the community justice society were unable to reach an agreement. It is the union's right to strike and we respect that. It is our hope that they go back to the table and reach an agreement soon.”
"If we do value the program as much as the government has said that it does, then it needs to provide additional funding,” says Leblanc. “It's as simple as that; we cannot maintain this current work load."
The union says a picket line will begin on Barrington Street in Halifax Monday at 8:00 a.m, with a rally at noon.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Allan April.