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Fix justice staffing problem at home first: MGEU

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WHILE the justice minister has called out a critical shortage of RCMP officers in Manitoba, his department has major staffing vacancies of its own to address, the employees’ union says.

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WHILE the justice minister has called out a critical shortage of RCMP officers in Manitoba, his department has major staffing vacancies of its own to address, the employees’ union says.

In August, Kelvin Goertzen posted on social media a letter he’d written to Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino in which he asks the federal government to take “immediate action to develop a concrete plan” to address the shortage.

As of April 1, 2021, Manitoba had 987 RCMP officers, about 60 short of funded positions, amounting to a six per cent vacancy rate — the highest in the country.

Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

As of Feb. 28, 2021, Manitoba Justice had more than 432 correction staff vacancies out of 1,600 authorized full-time equivalent positions — a 25 per cent vacancy rate. The data was obtained through a freedom of information request.

Department-wide, there were 3,181 full-time equivalent positions authorized, with 664 vacant — a 20.8 per cent vacancy rate as of last Feb. 28, 2021.

The union that represents justice employees wants Goertzen to focus his energy on filling vacancies in his own department.

“It’s just frustrating how this minister calls out other people for their vacancy rates when his own department has what looks like worse numbers,” said Kyle Ross, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Goertzen was not made available for an interview, but an unnamed government spokesman said that as of March 31, 2022, the justice department’s “true” vacancy rate is closer to 6.7 per cent. In addition, the spokesman said the higher vacancy numbers don’t reflect the actual staffing situation.

Correctional, sheriff and protective service officer positions “are never truly vacant,” the spokesman said in an email. “For any position that is reflected as not having a holder, there is a term staff member that is fulfilling the duties/roles. As such, they are removed from the consideration when creating our vacancy rates.”

July’s closure of the Agassiz Youth Centre in Portage la Prairie, which employed 110 workers, led to the reassignment of staff and a reduction in the total number of positions to be filled, he said.

The union president says there still isn’t enough staff.

“The government can try to spin those numbers however they want, but the reality is every correctional facility is not fully staffed,” Ross said.

“It’s not fair to our members and it’s not fair to inmates. (It causes) unnecessary inmate lockdowns and excessive overtime. The government needs to put in place a sustainable long-term recruitment and retention plan,” he said.

“There’s always risk when you’re working in corrections,” Ross said. “It’s a dangerous job. Having more staff, and greater retention of the people available to do the work, always makes it safer” for staff and inmates, he said.

Staff vacancies affect the public, too, said Ross, who met recently with members who work at the Law Courts Building in downtown Winnipeg.

It has a long customer service counter with many wickets and often only two of them are staffed, Ross said he was told.

“When people come in and see all these wickets, they can’t understand why no one’s there, and why it’s taking so long to process anything,” he said. “They’re expected to do more with less. They’re expected to rush and it’s really unfair,” said Ross.

“This government needs to step up and start hiring people.”

On Wednesday, Goertzen presented corrections exemplary service awards to 17 staff in youth and adult facilities, hailing their work as “essential” in supporting the justice system.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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Updated on Tuesday, September 13, 2022 6:35 AM CDT: Adds photo

Updated on Tuesday, September 13, 2022 8:51 AM CDT: Fixes formatting in fact box

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