Last week, CUPE Local 1949, representing approximately 155 Legal Aid lawyers and administrative support staff across Saskatchewan, was informed that the Saskatoon Duty Counsel work was going to be contracted out.
Yesterday, the Union learned that as a result of three lawyer positions being contracted out to the private bar, two Legal Assistants and 1.5 Administrative Assistants would be laid off. In addition, the Union was informed that two Eligibility Officer positions were being eliminated in Saskatoon and redeployed to Regina.
There was no meaningful consultation with the staff who do the Duty Counsel work prior to these decisions nor were there discussions with the private bar.
“The Union is very concerned about the negative impact this will have on our clients,” says local president Wanda Towstego. “Many of our clients are among the most marginalized and vulnerable people in society, and our staff are dedicated to serving their needs.”
“We are also committed to meeting the demands of the court system and work tirelessly to ensure our clients receive the representation they are entitled to,” says Towstego.
“The rationale provided to the Union for management’s decision to contract out, lay off staff, and relocate positions does not appear to be grounded in the facts,” says National Representative Ann Iwanchuk. “Remand numbers in the Saskatoon office are about the same as in Regina.”
Iwanchuk says that “Legal Aid Saskatchewan has been chronically underfunded and staff have suffered from extreme, escalating workload issues in recent years.” Towstego emphasizes that “this underfunding impacts our clients most of all.”
Nevertheless, in June 2016, CEO Craig Goebel told members of the legislative assembly that staffing levels were adequate and there was enough “capacity to absorb any increases” in files.
“This appears to demonstrate a disconnect from what is actually happening in the trenches,” says Iwanchuk.
President Towstego says, “CUPE will take whatever action is necessary to preserve the integrity of the Legal Aid program and ensure that Saskatchewan clients have access to the legal resources they need and deserve.”