HALIFAX — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil says his government is willing to look at adjusting the grant that pays the salaries of six striking restorative justice case workers, but he says they need to go back to bargaining with their employer first.
The workers, who serve the Halifax area, are employed by the provincially funded Community Justice Society and have been on strike since July 30.
Following a cabinet meeting Thursday, McNeil said he wants to see a contract both sides are happy with.
"And then we would determine what we would be happy to adjust the grant with."
However, McNeil didn't expand on how that suggestion could work given the current impasse.
According to the Justice Department, the society gets about $650,000 annually to run the restorative justice program in Halifax. The total cost of grants that go to the seven organizations that deliver restorative justice services throughout the province is $2.2 million.
The small band of striking case workers, the only unionized group in the system, are seeking pay in line with that paid to provincial probation officers.
Caseworker Shila LeBlanc says the provincial Justice Department has to get involved now because it alone controls the funding structure.
"The employer actually did as much as they humanly could within the current funding to give us a better deal," said LeBlanc. "The fact that the Department of Justice is the one that is rolling out these new programs and not funding them, we couldn't accept it (the offer). We need the government to come through."
LeBlanc said there has been no word of more negotiations with the society, although the striking workers hope they can get back to talks.
The workers in the Halifax office say they handle more than 70 per cent of all cases in Nova Scotia and their caseloads have doubled since the province announced the expansion of the restorative justice program in 2016.
The expansion saw Nova Scotia become the first province in Canada to add adults to the system.
The restorative justice program brings offenders, victims of crime, and communities together to resolve issues without incarceration. It requires offenders to take responsibility for their actions and holds them accountable to the community and their victims.
Jillian Smyth, a 23-year-old Dalhousie University student, lent her support to the strikers at a news conference at the provincial legislature on Thursday.
Smyth said she had been through restorative justice twice, as a 15-year-old and again as a 17-year-old.
She said her caseworker ultimately helped to turn her life around.
"She really stood up for me," Smyth said. "I really felt like I had the support of another very strong woman figure in my life to help me through those difficult times.
Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press