Union blames low pay for high turnover of guards at provincial prisons - InfoNews

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Union blames low pay for high turnover of guards at provincial prisons

The newly opened Okanagan Correctional Centre, pictured in this file photo, is facing the same challenges as the other nine jails in B.C. when it comes to retaining correctional officers.
January 11, 2018 - 8:00 PM

The province’s jails are facing some challenges when it comes to recruiting and maintaining staff levels as the union representing correction officers pushes for higher wages.

B.C. Government Employees Union vice president Dean Purdy says all 10 of the province’s correctional centres are experiencing high turnover, including Okanagan and Kamloops Correctional Centre.

“Corrections officers are leaving at an alarming rate of attrition, at 14 per cent, it’s the highest in the provincial government,” he says.

Purdy says it's hard to retain good correctional officers due to their pay scale.

He says provincial corrections officers make on average around $60,000 annually, compared to average wages of $76,000 for federal corrections officers, $93,000 for municipal police officers and $86,000 for RCMP members.

“We just can’t compete, it’s easy for other law enforcement agencies to actively recruit our officers and scoop them up into policing or federal corrections,” he says, adding provincial corrections officers bring a significant amount of training with them.

“They are already trained in use of force and screening processes. A bit more training with the Justice Institute and they can be working as a police officer without skipping a beat,” he says.

Purdy says the ministry has been placing ads on radio, in local newspapers and on Craigslist.

The province is also spending a significant amount on overtime at all its jails, he says.

“It doesn’t make sense from a business point of view to run a business like this,” Purdy says.

While the union isn’t looking for wage parity with other enforcement agencies, it wants the pay gap to be closed. Recent talks with the province over the issue produced a detailed package of recommendations that is now in the hands of the finance committee.

B.C. Corrections spokesperson Cindy Rose says in an email turnover of provincial corrections officers has remained steady for the past five years at an average rate of 10.5 per cent annually. She says the ministry is very aware about concerns over compensation.

Rose says the collective agreement with the B.C. Government Employees Union is scheduled for renegotiation within the next year. In the meantime, efforts continue to proactively recruit new staff and explore options — with input from the union — to enhance retention of correctional staff.

The ministry has hired more than 600 correctional officers province-wide in the last two years, including the hiring of 240 officers at Okanagan Correctional Centre, she says.

Rose says the ministry has attempted to provide benefits to corrections officers that include such things as shift schedule options, paid training, subsidies for continuing education, other growth and development opportunities and a pension plan that “ranks amongst the best” in an effort to compete with other law enforcement agencies.

The many qualities necessary for a correctional officer’s role also narrows the field of people who are ultimately qualified to work as corrections officers, she adds.

— This story was updated at 8 a.m. Friday, Jan. 12, 2018 to correct information regarding the wages paid to federal corrections officers.


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