Legal aid staff lawyers still without fair agreement, announce work-to-rule

VICTORIA, British Columbia, Nov. 21, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Starting tomorrow, the Legal Services Society (LSS) staff lawyers are taking work-to-rule job action. All legal aid centres will remain open. However, the 26 LSS staff lawyers will now only be completing their essential client and case work. They will no longer be performing other administrative duties, such as responding to emails from management or attending staff meetings. This strike action is incremental in nature and will continue until the B.C. Government comes to the table with an offer that addresses wage inequality.

Currently, legal aid staff lawyers make 30-per-cent less than their colleagues in Crown Counsel. They now also make significantly less than the 1,000 legal aid contract lawyers, who were given a 25-per-cent wage increase earlier this year, as well as additional wage increases over the next three years.

“The Government has an opportunity to stop the historical underfunding of legal aid,” said Harshada Deshpande, a staff lawyer at the Parents Legal Centre in Vancouver. “We do the same work as the contracted legal aid lawyers, yet we’ve been offered less.”

“We are the first point of contact in the legal aid centres across the province. We go to court and we also advocate for clients outside of court processes. We serve on the front lines of justice for those who need it most.”

Without wage increases, B.C. legal aid centres will continue to face challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff lawyers. This differential will drive good people out of the legal aid centres and convince the next generation it’s better to become a contract lawyer in private practice than it is to work as a legal aid staff lawyer.

CUPE’s recently ratified collective agreement for Saanich school support workers shows it is possible to address wage inequities like those faced by LSS staff lawyers within the provincial mandate. The legal aid staff lawyers are hopeful the B.C. Government will take similar steps to resolve their dispute and are taking work-to-rule job action to demonstrate their continued resolve.

With support from the BC Federation and BCGEU workers, LSS staff lawyers held a one-day walkout and picketing of the LSS headquarters in Vancouver on November 1. Their collective agreement expired on September 30, 2019.

About The PEA
The PEA is a union of and for professional employees. PEA bargaining units consist entirely or mostly of professionals — people whose work typically requires they have earned at least one university degree. The PEA was certified to represent the Legal Services Society (LSS) in 1981. LSS members practice primarily in criminal, family, and immigration law across BC.


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