Caseworkers at the Community Justice Society are optimistic going into conciliation talks next Tuesday that their demands for wage fairness will be respected. The seven employees, members of CUPE  4764, are asking for a similar wage structure to probation officers, who earn considerably more than caseworkers yet have almost identical qualifications and responsibility.

“We have proposed a wage increase to 90 per cent of the pay of provincial probation officers,” says CUPE National Rep Govind Rao, “based on the findings of a recent job comparison study between the two groups.” Caseworkers earn a flat yearly salary of $37,000 (meaning someone hired 10 years ago earns the same wage as someone hired today) while probation officers earn an average of $66,000 per year.

In addition, employee caseload has increased almost 150 per cent since the restorative justice option, previously for youth, was expanded to include adult offenders in 2016. Local 4764 President Denise Russell says “We are passionate about the work that we do, but our workload has increased without any corresponding increase in compensation or resources. As a result, staff turnover is extremely high.”

The community justice program is considered a jewel in the crown of Nova Scotia’s justice system, says Rao. “With other jurisdictions across the country looking to follow our example,” he adds, “it makes sense that our government would want to show justice to its employees.”

The employees have been without a contract since April 2016, and took a strike vote in May, which passed unanimously. They could be in position to strike by the end of July if an agreement is not reached.

“Restorative justice is about taking responsibility and being accountable for your actions,” says Russell. “Exactly what this government is not doing.”