A 28-day labour dispute involving whether corrections officers could wear safety vests at their own discretion at the Hamilton-Wentworth Detention Centre (HWDC) in Hamilton is over.
An agreement was reached between the Ministry of Community Safety and Correction Services and the Ontario Public Service Employee Union (OPSEU) on Sept. 11.
In the settlement, the parties agreed correctional officers in every institution across Ontario will now be allowed to wear their protective vests at any time during the course of their duties.
When guards at HWDC discovered a broken piece of metal in the facility was missing last month, they worried a weapon may be in circulation with the inmates. Management refused the guards’ request to wear safety vests, arguing it interfered with the guards’ relationships with the inmates. As a result, the guards refused to work, citing unsafe working conditions. This led to a general lockdown as management took over the facility.
"We made gains in health and safety, and our members will be allowed to dispute any disciplinary or economic sanctions by the employer," Dan Sidsworth, provincial chair of OPSEU's corrections division, adding health and safety issues involved in the dispute were the most important for his members.
The settlement allowed for provisions that would not have been possible at an Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) hearing, he said.
"If the OLRB hearing had gone ahead, the main argument would have been about the work stoppage, and the safety issue would have been a side matter for the board," Sidsworth said.
The two parties will select an arbitrator from the Ontario Grievance Settlement Board to outstanding issues regarding discipline and pay.
“This process has been lengthy, but I am pleased that the ministry and the union have arrived at a negotiated settlement,” said Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services Madeleine Meilleur.