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Jail guards to protest, cite crowding, low pay

Jul 18 2012

Jail guards and other staff plan to rally outside the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre in Victoria Wednesday, protesting what they claim are prison overcrowding and low salaries.

Corrections staff say the move isn't part of ongoing strike action by their union, the B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, and won't involve anyone walking off the job or disrupting the Wilkinson Road jail in any way.

"For the most part, the folks in corrections are an essential service, so to be able to have any kind of job action is virtually impossible," said BCGEU president Darryl Walker.

"But by the same token, there's lot of frustration with our bargaining this time around."

The BCGEU, which represents almost 26,000 government employees including corrections officers and sheriffs, is currently locked in a labour dispute with the B.C. government over wages. The union launched one-day picket lines at B.C. liquor warehouses this month in its first phase of job action.

B.C. corrections officers - which the union says earn between $43,711 and $70,165, depending on seniority - rank seventh or eighth across Canada in pay, and staff trained here are often poached by other provinces, Walker said.

They are also facing increased crowding inside jails and more frequent serious assaults, Walker said.

The rally will also be in support of B.C. sheriffs, who primarily work in courthouses but are upset the government has rejected their proposal to take over traffic safety and enforcement duties from police officers.

The move could save $180 million a year, the union argues, which would fit government's co-operative gains mandate to find savings that could be used for wage increases.

B.C.'s police have opposed the sheriff idea, citing a lack of consultation, inadequate training, and the unpredictable nature of traffic stops, which can lead to drug, weapon or impaired driving charges.

B.C.'s top judges also oppose the idea, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman writing the attorney general in 2010 saying it was unacceptable for sheriffs, as officers of the court, to potentially become witnesses. A sheriff shortage has already led to court delays, Bauman added.

Bauman's office said Tuesday his opinion remains the same.

Walker said Alberta uses sheriffs as traffic cops, and B.C. needs to at least talk about the idea as part of contract negotiations.

rshaw@timescolonist.com

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