PENTICTON, B.C. – Native Okanagan court workers engaged in strike action at the Penticton Courthouse on Wednesday. According to the BC Government and Service Employees’ Union (BCGEU), the job action is aimed at highlighting the discriminatory wages and benefits BC’s Native court workers receive compared to other public workers who perform similar work. Native South Okanagan court worker, Jack Kruger divides his time between Kelowna, Penticton and Princeton courthouses, helping people understand the ins and outs of the court system, assisting them in finding a lawyer and outlining what is happening to them as well as what is expected of them.
“The reason why I’m so frustrated is because we’re so underpaid. We are being discriminated against in terms of our wage. Other legal advocacy groups get around $45,000 starting wage, ours is $31,000,” says Kruger.
Kruger has had his position since 2005 and estimates he helps about 500 people every year.
“It’s so frustrating at times I just feel like quitting my job but if I do then more Natives will fall through the cracks and I’m willing to sacrifice for the clients,” says Kruger.
He says First Nations are over-represented in the court system and legal advocates for them are important.
“A lot of them aren’t willing to understand how to defend themselves. A lot of times they plead guilty and they build a record,” says Kruger.
The striking workers are employed by the Native Court Worker and Counselling Association of British Columbia, an organization funded by the B.C. government.
“Because of the Native court workers association, we are finding things like alternative sentencing, restoration justice and different plans for the courts to use,” says Kruger.
BCGEU staff representative, Rob Wotherspoon says there are currently 37 Native court workers in the province.
“They’re such a small group of workers that in the big scheme of the provincial budget, to put them into an agreement that would give them appropriate wage levels would not cost a lot,” says Wotherspoon.
The workers plan to strike in Kelowna on Thursday.