No cuts to guard positions despite Nanaimo council decision

City council decided in October to stop practice of same-gender guarding

There have been no cuts to the ranks of Nanaimo’s prison guards as the City of Nanaimo drafts a resolution.

Nanaimo city council decided to eliminate four prison guard positions last October in the wake of a core review, ending a more than decade-long practice of separate guards for male and female prisoners. The decision, however, hasn’t been implemented.

John Van Horne, the city’s director of human resources, said the city is looking to make changes in a responsible way and there would be “huge challenges” in the work environment if there was a layoff situation, with the collective agreement requiring termination of all temporary and casual employees with the layoff of a full-time worker. If there are opportunities some guards can post into, the city will look at it, said Van Horne, who also said it takes time to work through operational considerations.

Victor Mema, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer, couldn’t give a timeline for the elimination of guarding positions, but said the city is close to finalizing implementation of council’s directive.

“For us, what we’re hoping we can do is at the end of the day we address working conditions for the guards, we address the issue of scheduling and we also address the general budget issues associated with the process,” he said. “We have to work with the union, we have to work with the guards and like I said, we’re pretty close in coming to a resolution.”

On the issue of gender guarding, he said to an extent some public discussion is based on misinformation — although he wouldn’t speak to what that is, saying it’s working conditions for an identifiable position in the city. He did say he thinks there is a “pretty good resolution” that respects the rights of every prisoner that comes through the facility.

Blaine Gurrie, president of CUPE local 401, said no resolution has been found for elimination of positions. The employer wants to talk about possibly transferring people, but he said unfortunately that could be a violation of the collective agreement.

“We’ve been relying on the fact that operational requirements will prevail regardless of council motions,” he said, referring to, for example, RCMP requirements for two guards when there are more than 11 prisoners and a dedicated guard if there’s a suicidal prisoner. “For the last six months or so, that’s been the way it’s been and there hasn’t been any need to … actually issue any layoff notices to anybody.”

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