Legal aid staff start work-to-rule job action

Lawyers want wages closer to those of others in legal aid system

Attorney General David Eby | File photo, Dan Toulgoet

B.C. legal aid staff lawyers will start work-to-rule job action Friday as they seek wages closer to those of other lawyers in the system.

The lawyers work with the Legal Services Society (LSS), which oversees the province’s assistance to those unable to afford legal representation on issues such as criminal charges or family law, among other matters.

“All legal aid centres will remain open,” the Professional Employees Association said in a news release. “However, the 26 LSS staff lawyers will now only be completing their essential client and case work.”

The staff lawyers said they make 30% less than Crown lawyers and “significantly less than the 1,000 legal aid contract lawyers, who were given a 25% wage increase earlier this year, as well as additional wage increases over the next three years.”

The lawyers already held a one-day walkout and picketing of the LSS headquarters in Vancouver on November 1. Their collective agreement expired on Sept. 30, 2019.

The lawyers issued strike notice Oct. 28.

The labour-action announcement came two weeks after Attorney General David Eby announced the province had struck a deal with lawyers doing legal aid work for those unable to afford legal representation.

The lawyers said their incremental job action would continue until the province provides an offer they can agree addresses wage inequality.

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

Deshpande said staff lawyers are often the first point of contact with people seeking aid.

“We go to court and we also advocate for clients outside of court processes,” Deshpande said. “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.

As part of job action, the lawyers won’t be performing administrative duties, such as responding to emails from management or attending staff meetings.

More to come