Toronto – OPSEU/SEFPO President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says correctional staff must be compensated properly after new directives for testing against COVID-19 were issued for Ontario’s correctional facilities.
With COVID-19 case numbers on the rise in congregate settings, the province announced recently that all staff in Ontario’s correctional facilities, including youth justice, must now submit to frequent rapid testing – regardless of their vaccination status. All staff will now be required to test at home three to four times per week, then upload photographic proof and submit it through an online portal before work – a process that could add hours of additional unpaid work.
“Our front-line correctional heroes have gone above and beyond, especially during this pandemic,” said Thomas. “They’ve put their own health and safety at risk every day to keep their colleagues, inmates and Ontario safe. They’ve done what they were asked to do by getting vaccinated, and they should be paid if they’re going to have to do rapid testing on their own time. It’s just not right, and we’re going to fight it.”
As a new condition of employment, Thomas says correctional workers should be compensated properly for their time, and as a result, the union will file what’s known as a policy grievance with the Grievance Settlement Board.
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says the union will pursue full redress, including compensation for all expenses associated with compliance.
“Our corrections members have valid concerns – about the additional unpaid hours, but also about the unnecessarily complicated verification process itself,” said Almeida. “They are expected to jump through these new hoops, but with little guidance or technological training.
“For those without access to high-quality internet connections, the whole process is that much more frustrating,” Almeida added. “The employer must recognize these challenges and develop a secondary, and simplified method of verification – and they must compensate staff appropriately.”
The union says that in the current labour climate, and in the shadow of Bill 124 and its unconstitutional wage cap, forcing correctional staff to in effect provide unpaid labour is beyond unacceptable.
“Correctional workers are in the line of fire every day, dealing with COVID-19 outbreaks on top of their regular duties – and they are fed up,” said Chad Oldfield, Co-Chair of the OPSEU/SEFPO Corrections Ministry-Employee Relations Committee (MERC). “Right now, we’re advising folks to comply with the new directive and then grieve, and we’re assuring them that the union will have their back 100 per cent. We’ve reached our limit, and we’re pushing back – to achieve better.”