As the turmoil at the Barton Street jail stretches on, the ministry responsible for correctional officers in Ontario is attempting to quell the situation with an illegal strike application.
“To keep workers and inmates safe and return the facility to normal operations as quickly as possible, my ministry will now be filing an illegal strike application with the Ontario Labour Relations Board,” Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, said in a statement Friday.
Dan Sidsworth, vice-chair of correctional services for the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, says the ministry's decision is what they expected.
“We were basically waiting for this to happen,” he said.
“But instead of having a decision imposed upon us, we would have liked to have worked something out with management.”
The dispute in the jail started Aug. 13, when workers noticed a missing piece of metal in Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre and wanted to don safety vests to look for it.
Management denied the request, saying it might intimidate or incite the inmates.
Meilleur says a Ministry of Labour inspector visited the Barton Street jail on Aug. 14 and Aug. 15.
“The inspector's final report noted that the employer had agreed to a staff request that the search of the fourth floor be conducted by staff wearing protective vests,” she said.
“It also noted that a provision of the Ontario Health and Safety Act allowing workers under certain conditions to refuse to perform their duties did not apply in this case.”
She said the decision for workers to not comply with management is “unacceptable,” and a “threat to safety.”
“Over the course of 24 days the ministry has made 18 offers in good faith to facilitate a return to normal operations,” she said. “We cannot allow this protracted disruption to drag on.”
Sidsworth says a decision on the illegal strike application could come as early as Monday.
He says guards are still very frustrated by everything that's taken place at the jail for the last month.
“There's not a lot of faith on our end going in front of the labour board,” he said.