Despite “waves of concern” expressed by both the private bar and staff at the Legal Aid Commission regarding plans to cut staff and contract out work of the organization, the agency is issuing layoff notices to six Legal Aid employees in the Saskatoon office yesterday and today.
Critics have been outspoken in the media.
“I think that’s just poor planning” Jessie Buydens, a Saskatoon-based lawyer with the private bar, said of the plans last week. Saskatchewan Trial Lawyers Association president Nicholas Stooshinoff confirmed that the decisions came without consultation or an “articulated proposal.”
At the same time, thousands of files are being farmed out to private lawyers, while three lawyer positions within the organization are not being filled.
“The layoffs and contracting out will have a very negative impact on our clients,” says Deb Hopkins, vice-president of CUPE Local 1949, representing 150 Legal Aid lawyers and administrative staff.
“Legal Aid was established to assist the most vulnerable and marginalized people in this province. As an organization and as staff, we exist to meet the needs of our clients day- in and day-out. Contracting out and privatization will be devastating for many clients,” says Hopkins.
CUPE National Representative Ann Iwanchuk says the union has been given two conflicting justifications for the layoffs. “We’ve heard from government sources that the changes were a result of ‘personnel issues.’ But the CEO says they’re about operational ‘flexibility.’ Which story is true? And where is the accountability?”
“It’s deeply misguided and it’s the clients who will suffer the most because of these layoffs,” says Hopkins.