Ontario Avoids Probation Officer Strike, Makes Officers “Essential Service”

In early January 2016, about 6,000 employees in the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, about 250 of which are probation and parole officers of various kinds, began planning for a strike. The Union was in a position to legally go on strike on January 10th, 2016, although there was no guarantee of a strike from the union.

The possibility of a strike arises from a dispute over a hiring freeze and no new contracts with the government since 2014. If the strike took place, it would have left more than three thousand offenders without a parole officer, and all the open cases would have been left to their managers, which was simply not possible. It would dramatically reduce the ability of inmates in prisons to move about and even bathe. They wouldn’t be granted any visitation hours. Perhaps more importantly, the public could be at risk when appointments with offenders are completely canceled through the strike.

However, the Canadian government met with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union the day before the planned strike and worked a deal to prevent the strike. In the deal, the parole officers were named as “essential service,” meaning all officers give up their right to strike, for they are now essential. This deal addressed only some of the concerns the union had when threatening to strike. The hiring freeze was lifted, and a promise was made to hire a minimum of 25 new probation and parole officers, but not any specific number of corrections officers.

One of the reasons this deal was accepted is that the union thought they could secure wages on par with first responders in Ontario, but that was not a part of this deal. Instead, a third party arbitrator will address the issue of wages later this year. Ultimately, the union is pleased with the deal that was made, and the Ontario correctional system will continue to operate without a hitch.