January 16, 2015 6:57 pm
Updated: January 18, 2015 3:17 pm

Future still uncertain for Sask. corrections cooks

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WATCH ABOVE: One year later, the Sask. government still doesn’t have an update on any plans to privatize the jobs of kitchen staff in the province’s correctional centres

REGINA – Kitchen staff in Saskatchewan jails are still waiting to find out if they’ll lose their jobs.

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On January 14, 2014, the provincial government announced a request-for-proposal (RFP) to privatize food services in seven correctional facilities. A decision was supposed to come down by the fall.

One year later, any plan to outsource the 62 positions has stalled.

“Sometimes these things take a little longer than expected,” said Drew Wilby, executive director of corporate affairs for the ministry of justice, corrections & policing.

The workers have been in limbo – some choosing to seek different jobs in corrections or leaving the system entirely, according to the Saskatchewan Government & General Employees Union (SGEU).

Those who remain in the kitchen are frustrated.

“It brings a lot of uncertainty into their families’ lives and puts a lot of things on hold,” said SGEU president Bob Bymoen.

Saskatchewan spent $3.7 million to feed an average of 1,634 inmates in 2012-13.

Compare it to provinces with privatized food services: British Columbia had an average of 2,498 mouths to feed, but spent twice as much to do it ($8 million in 2013-14). Alberta had even more inmates (3,047), but their food services contract is nearly triple the cost of Saskatchewan’s ($11 million). All data is from those corrections ministries and Statistics Canada.

Data source: Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C. justice ministries; Statistics Canada

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Both of those provinces’ contracts have been with Compass Group Canada for several years. Compass also provides food services for jails in some parts of Ontario.

University of Regina political scientist Jim Farney believes any plan to outsource the kitchen jobs boils down to ideology.

“The (Saskatchewan) government does generally believe private services are better,” Farney said, while adding that it’s difficult to tell whether privatization saves money. “It depends a lot on what (services) and how much competition is in your market.”

South of the border, there’s a longer track record for contracting out services in jails.

Donald Cohen, who runs the public policy group ‘In the Public Interest’, told Global News those contracts have resulted in bad food and questionable security, citing examples from Michigan and Ohio.

“A private company has to make money,” Cohen said. “What they’re going to try and do is spend as little as possible to provide … as little as required.”

The Saskatchewan government won’t say which companies have submitted a proposal for corrections food services or even if a contract will be handed out.

“At a time a decision is made, our staff will be the first ones to know about it,” Wilby said.

When that is, still remains a giant question mark.

© 2015 Shaw Media

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