The union that represents prison correctional officers in the Pacific Region is renewing their call for hazard pay while working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are currently four penitentiaries in the region that have outbreaks, and more than half of all the penitentiaries have had outbreaks during the course of the pandemic. At least one officer has died, the union stated in a press release on Feb. 1.
The Union of Canadian Correctional Officers (UCCO-SACC-CSN) says that since the emergence of Omicron, both the Matsqui Institution and Pacific Institution in Abbotsford, the Kwìkwèxwelph Healing Village in Harrison Mills and Kent Institution in Agassiz have been declared outbreak sites.
“While Kwìkwèxwelhp just came out of an outbreak and Kent is in the process of doing so, the pressure on correctional officers continue to grow,” the press release stated. On Jan. 27, 135 correctional officers in the Pacific Region were on leave due to COVID.
Derek Chin, president of UCCO-SACC-CSN for the Pacific Region, said that numerous correctional officers have been infected at work.
“It sadly resulted in a work-related fatality of an officer,” he said. “They have worked, as the rest of the first responders and other essential workers, in extremely hard conditions. It is about time that the government recognizes our work.”
Correctional officers have been asking for a COVID-19 premium for two years, and the union states the situation is getting worse.
“A hazard pay would provide concrete recognition of the difficulties they have faced since the beginning of the pandemic,” Chin said.
There are compounding issues leading to absences, as well.
Correctional officers are currently not eligible for PCR tests, and need to stay home on sick leave when they test positive with a rapid test. They say access to PCR tests is given to inmates, and providing them to officers would alleviate reduced staffing levels.
Chin says the “logic is hard to understand.”
The union’s main concern is the health and safety of its members, who they say are working hard to minimize spread of the virus in the workplace.
Further, there have been four refusals to work in the Pacific Region. And when Employment and Social Development (ESDC) was required to investigate, they did not attend the prisons in person to do so.
“It is too bad that the government’s agency that is supposed to ensure our health and safety does nothing to protect us,” Chin said. “Of course, they made their decision without coming in person in the prison because of their fear of COVID. If there are risks to the ESDC investigators, why would that not be risky to us as well?”
Chin said it proves a lack of protection by ESDC.
In addition to their renewed call for the premium, the union is asking the Correctional Service of Canada for wide access to PCR testing in B.C., and to assist correctional officers in obtaining other types of leave that may meet their needs.
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