By Shaan Mohamed
Legal aid lawyers in Ontario are rallying to secure a collective bargaining agreement.
The rally took place in front of Legal Aid Ontario’s (LAO) corporate offices, has been in the works for some time.
“In May of 2013 we sent our employer a letter asking to meet with us and our representatives and to recognize our collective bargaining rights,” said Jillian Rogan, a legal aid duty council and criminal lawyer on behalf of Legal Aid Ontario Lawyers’ Organizing Campaign.
“We received a response from our employer on May 27th, indicating that they have received our correspondence and that they would respond to us in due course. And that’s the last we heard from our employer.”
LAO said that isn’t the case .
“LAO respects our lawyers’ right to freedom of speech,” said Kristian Justesen, director of communications via e-mail.
The LAO is open to discussing the matter further and met with its staff over the summer to address their concerns, said Justesen.
“As a result of those conversations with staff, we have made a number of changes such as offering secondments, cancelling work rotations and setting up an advisory committee comprised of staff lawyers.”
However, legal aid lawyers say that working out a collective bargaining agreement is an issue of gender equality.
“It’s interesting that the Crown Attorneys in Ontario are predominately male and predominately white and their rights have been recognized for years now,” said Rogan.
“The lawyers at legal aid are overwhelmingly women and we believe we’re one of the most racialized workplaces for lawyers in the province. On the face it certainly makes us feel like we are not being treated the same as our male counterparts.”
Ontario is the only province that doesn’t have collective bargaining rights for its legal aid lawyers, said Rogan.
“All other public service sector lawyers have that right, so our colleagues that we work with everyday in the Crown Attorney’s office has been collectively bargaining with their employer for years now.”
The LAO insists that they are willing to work out an agreement with their lawyers.
“LAO would like to work directly and talk directly with its staff lawyers to ensure that there’s more of a consultative process in the development of programs that affect staff and clients,” said Justesen.
“We have and will continue to talk to staff directly to discuss their concerns.”
In 2009, legal aid lawyers started boycotting serious cases (ex. guns and gang related cases) due to their pay not reflecting the cost of living at the time. The boycott lasted 8 months and legal aid lawyers would see a slow 5% increase in their pay over the next 6 years.