Without his services, Jack Kruger fears that the crime rate in the South Okanagan could rise.
As an employee of the Native Courtworker and Counselling Association of B.C., he has been working for three years in Penticton and Kelowna without a contract.
“I think crime would go up lot,” said Kruger, who noted he is so fed up with unfair pay that he has considered leaving the job he has been doing since 1974. “Natives would fall through cracks and be sentenced to jail for things that normally they wouldn’t because the judge doesn’t know the person or background.”
Kruger provides court-related services and counselling to Aboriginal clients entering the criminal justice system. This includes referrals for restorative justice and alternative sentencing which keeps Aboriginals out of the jail system. A system, that Kruger said, consists of 52 per cent Aboriginal population in B.C. already.
The contract with the court workers is funded by the B.C. government and expired in 2011, workers started rotating strike action on Sept. 30 which will occur in Penticton on Wednesday at the courthouse. The Native Courtworker and Counselling Association said they are being paid up to $13,000 less than public workers doing similar jobs and they have only had a nine per cent raise increase since 2002, despite inflation going up 18 per cent.
Kruger said it is “disheartening,” leading him to consider giving up his career. He said if he walked away from the job someone would eventually fill it, but for how long is the question. Turnover is high throughout the province in the position Kruger holds because of the low pay.
“This is a front-line job. We don’t sit in the office waiting for clients to come to us through the door. We have to go out and search for them, meet them at the courthouse and contact them at home and quite often that means a lot of overtime that we don’t get paid for,” said Kruger adding he also handles marital disputes, civil claims, traditional law and referring clients with substance abuse among other things.
Kruger said the Native courtworkers also save the taxpayer dollars by keeping Aboriginals out of the jail system.
“In the past year I have had 20 clients taken out of the jail. Let’s estimate that is accumulative to a year of jail time, well that is savings of up to $100,000. I’ve estimated in the last eight years I have saved the public over $800,000. At the rate of pay I earn, it would take nearly 20 years to equal that amount of money.”
There are 20 communities across the province on rotating job action. On Wednesday Penticton will join Bella Coola and Surrey with picket lines from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Kelowna will hold one on Thursday.
Kruger said the association is holding a conference call next week to decide what steps they will take next. He said he does not know at this time if this includes a full-on strike.