Update for Child Protection Social Workers

On July 4th, 2017, a group grievance with twenty signatories was filed regarding the working conditions in the Children in Care and Intake programs at the Sackville DCS office. The redress cited in the grievance suggested a number of possible strategies to address the concerns raised by the members involved in the grievance. In December 2019, the parties came to a negotiated outcome in the form of a Memorandum of Agreement, which resulted in the establishment of four regional Labour Management Committees (LMC). The committees included social workers, supervisors, employer reps and NSGEU Employee Relations Officers. The intention was to allow Social Workers to have a say in what solutions should be brought forward to address the various workplace concerns. The regional committees met and ended up establishing sub-committees, which were tasked with addressing specific areas of concern that had become consistent themes across each LMC. Specifically, those themes were workload, PART (after hours program), safety (including presumptive benefits through WCB for PTSD) and retention. In November 2021, the Committee as a whole decided on specific recommendations to be presented to the Deputy Minister. Those recommendations were presented on November 30th, 2021 by the committee Chairs, and the Deputy Minister issued her response on December 20th, 2021. Of note, the initial agreement was that the LMC would be in place for eighteen months, which was later extended to December 31st, 2021. The union then had until January 31st, 2022 to reply to the Deputy Minister’s response with respect to whether we believed it meet the terms as set out in the MOA.

Although the Minister’s response did not necessarily commit to all of the recommendations, the union believed the response was overall very positive and certainly a move in the right direction. Bearing in mind that the response was specific to the LMC recommendations and although there are many issues that remain in DCS overall, this process related only to the original intention of the grievance, which was to compel the employer to meet with the union to discuss and implement strategies regarding working conditions, workload, safety and compliance. With the exception of making a determination as to whether or not a Social Worker Labour Management Committee should continue, the terms of the MOA had been satisfied. Following consultation with the original grievers, the union relayed this to the employer and recommended that a DCS Social Worker Labour Management Committee should continue. This would provide members with an ongoing outlet to raise workplace concerns not specifically covered under the Collective Agreement with the employer with the goal of seeking positive outcomes. The employer accepted that recommendation and a permanent Child Protection Social Worked LMC was established.

On June 8th, 2022, an Interest Arbitration Award was issued with respect to outstanding issues relating to collective bargaining. Part of that award included a new MOA for DCS Child Protection Social Workers. This MOA was meant to address outstanding working conditions stemming from the LMCs that were not fully addressed in the Deputy Minister’s response. These included matters that fall under the Civil Service Agreement and would therefore require agreement by the parties (union and employer) to implement, as their implementation may require deviation from the Collective Agreement. Specifically, those issues were standby, retention incentives and Occupational Health and Safety.

The MOA contemplated that the parties (one representative for the employer and one representative for the union) will make a recommendation to a joint committee regarding any proposals that we mutually agreed to in advance. This recommendation was to be made by December 31st, 2022, which was later extended to January 31st, 2023. Following legal consultation, it was determined that the union’s side of the Joint Committee would be made up of two Employee Relations Officers who represent Social Workers (Gina Boyd and Brian Horne), our ERO/OH&S Officer (Dustin Rioux), and the Director of Servicing and Negotiations responsible for Government and Education (Nicole McKim). This decision was made because any changes would have to be established through a MOA, which would require the participating representatives to have the authority to potentially make changes that contravene the Collective Agreement. The intention of the MOA was honoured by this committee structure.

The union developed proposals on each of the three areas within our mandate, which we submitted on December 13th, 2022. The union received the employer’s response to the proposal on January 30th, 2023. The response specifically excluded any monetary proposal and focussed only on OH&S. Following some back and forth between the parties, the union eventually agreed to the employer’s final proposal and it was presented to and accepted by the Joint Committee for implementation. Our agreement was made with the understanding that both the NSGEU OH&S Officer and the PSC’s Workplace Health and Safety Division will continue to be involved with the implementation of the proposals and any issues that may arise after implementation. Should any issues arise with respect to the implementation of the proposals, the matter may be referred to adjudication.

We understand that the MOA does not go far enough to address the many serious concerns of our members, nor does it even remotely address the issues of standby or retention. The intention of the MOA tasked the parties with coming to an agreement on proposals to be submitted to the Committee. If no agreement was reached on the proposals, none would advance to the Committee. This means that if we did not accept the employer’s final proposal, the proposals on OH&S would not have advanced. We made the difficult to decision to accept what we could in an effort to continue to chip away at the larger problems plaguing Child Protection Social Workers.

The union expressed its disappointment that the employer declined to agree to any proposal made by the union to address the issues of standby and retention. We understand retention, in particular, to be a matter of significant concern to our members and one that requires urgent and immediate action both for the wellbeing of the clients that DCS serves, as well as our members, who provide their services. The union intends to continue to pursue this matter through other means and we are hopeful that the employer will work collaboratively with the union on a solution.

We very much appreciate your patience and perseverance through these processes and congratulate you on what has been accomplished through the hard work of the original LMC members. We know that we have a long way to go and are committed to continuing to find ways to support you with respect to your working conditions.

If you have questions or concerns about the process outlined above, please contact us at 902-424-4063 (toll-free 1-877-556-7438) or inquiry@nsgeu.ca.

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