Nearly half of legal aid lawyers could go on strike

Nearly half of legal aid lawyers could go on strike to challenge the salary offers of the government, which has so far refused to pay them at the height of their colleagues from the Crown.

“Why should the person prosecuting be paid more than the person defending the accused? asks Louis-Pierre Vanier, legal aid lawyer in Laurentides-Lanaudière.

The collective agreement of the 400 legal aid lawyers expired on December 31, 2019. It recognized the principle of parity between legal aid lawyers and Crown prosecutors. However, during the current negotiations, this principle seems to have disappeared, worries the union party.

Last week, around 30 legal aid lawyers in Gaspésie and Bas-Saint-Laurent voted unanimously for a three-day strike mandate. Monday evening, as many colleagues from the Laurentians and Lanaudière did the same.

The 125 Montreal legal aid lawyers — who are also affiliated with the Confederation of National Trade Unions — will vote next Monday on similar strike mandates. “We already have a super good participation rate announced, and the echoes [qu’on a]is that it should pass with a good majority, ”already suggests the president of the union of lawyers for legal aid in Montreal, Justine Lambert-Boulianne.

She says she feels a “fighting energy” on the pitch. A “bitterness”, too. “The last negotiation was long, so that we could find parity [avec les procureurs de la Couronne]. He [le gouvernement] don’t give it back to us and, again this time, we have to mobilize ourselves, ask for it again. It pisses everyone off. People want to work,” she says.

Crown prosecutors – whose salary increases are recommended by an independent committee – obtained in 2020 an increase totaling 10% in four years. ” [Donc]for sure we were surprised with this offer of [2 % par année sur trois ans]because it differs from what was concluded with the Crown, in a context where we have been told many times that it was important, parity, “summarizes Mand Vanier, who is a member of the bargaining committee for the union side in this file.

The offer of 6% over three years is equivalent to that made by the Treasury Board to public sector employees. Questioned Monday, the representatives of the ministry of the executive Council and the Council of the treasure were not able to comment on the negotiations in progress with the lawyers of the legal aid, for lack of time.

Staff retention

In the opinion of M.and Vanier, compensation is a “critical issue for staff and talent retention” at legal aid. “We represent the most vulnerable people in society, it takes someone to represent them, these people,” he says. ” [L’aide juridique], it’s volume. We often have many more files than in the private sector, so if the remuneration does not follow, we will lose people. »

Mand Lambert-Boulianne adds. “The lawyer in the field, who represents the woman victim of domestic violence, who accompanies a child to court, who works overtime in the evenings, on weekends, who keeps [ses dossiers] at arm’s length, it’s the legal aid lawyer,” she describes.

To the government, which “pretends” to want to tackle the problems of youth protection and to support the fight against family, conjugal and sexual violence, she therefore suggests ensuring that “the boots follow the chops”.

The majority of mandates entrusted to legal aid (36%) relate to criminal law, according to the 2020-2021 annual report of the Commission des services juridiques. This is followed by mandates in youth protection (26%), civil and administrative law (15%) and family law (13%).

The strike mandates obtained so far provide for walkouts “when deemed appropriate”. “We have no choice but to go on strike to be seen, to be heard and to get the message out,” says Mand Lambert-Boulianne.

Union representatives with whom The duty discussed assured that the strike days were not intended above all to “harm our customers”. Lawyers having ethical obligations, these will take precedence over strike mandates, they assured.

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