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Publication date : 2020-02-20
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Publication date : 2020-02-19

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Undervalued and stressed: Morale low in Manitoba’s justice department, staff survey says


Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the province has implemented a number of initiatives to address concerns raised by department employees in a 2018 staff engagement survey. (Austin Grabish/CBC)


Employees in Manitoba's justice department feel they are undervalued, have concerns about the leadership in their office, and note a lack meaningful recognition, according to a staff engagement survey obtained by CBC News.


CBC News obtained results of the 2018 survey — which was completed by correctional officers, sheriff's officers, court clerks, lawyers, Crown prosecutors and probation officers — through a freedom of information request.


The document is broken down into themes: diversity and inclusion, respect in the workplace, ethical environment, culture, capacity development and leadership.


In every single category, the justice department scored lower than other provincial government departments. In several cases, the survey results say the department scored notably lower than other departments which had employees take the same series of questions.


Only 31 per cent of justice department survey respondents, for example, agreed that they had received meaningful recognition for their work, compared to 42 per cent among all Manitoba departments. A full 50 per cent of justice employees disagreed that they had received such recognition.


Meanwhile, 41 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement "I have confidence in the senior leadership of my department" — but another 40 per cent disagreed with that statement.


Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, said workplace morale in the department is at an all-time low. (Holly Caruk/CBC)


"What I'm hearing across the board from all of our members is they don't feel that they're being valued at work," said Michelle Gawronsky, the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union, which represents many justice staffers.


Gawronsky said workplace morale in the department is at an all-time low.


"I can tell you that in the seven years that I've been the president of the MGEU, it is definitely the worst that I've ever seen."


The survey was sent to all active Manitoba government employees — 14,098 in total — and was open from Nov. 13 to Dec. 4, 2018. 


It was completed by 1,456 justice department employees — a 35 per cent response rate for the department.


There were a couple of positive results in the survey for the justice department. Eighty per cent of employees agreed they are clear on the ethical values expected from them at work in the department, and many staffers (80 per cent) said they had positive working relationships with their co-workers.


Crown positions vacant

But only 35 per cent of justice employees agreed with the statement "I am satisfied with my department," while 42 per cent disagreed.


Employees cited heavy caseloads as a problem, and treatment of staff by managers and supervisors was one of the sub-themes most commented on in the survey.


For the province's prosecutors, for example, staff vacancies and the nature of the work they take on are issues, says the president of the Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys.


"There's a lot of stress in the office and a lot of pressure on us," said Jennifer Mann.

There are multiple Crown attorney positions vacant in Manitoba's north, which is adding stress for prosecutors in Winnipeg who have to fill in, says Manitoba Association of Crown Attorneys president Jennifer Mann. (CBC)


As an example of the intense work her colleagues do daily, she pointed to a case two Crown attorneys are prosecuting this week involving a person accused of committing, and recording, a serious sexual assault against a child.


"They're having to view images that no one should ever have to look at of a child being sexually assaulted, so I think that gives you a sense of just that one case, that type of stress," she said.


"That's not atypical of this office and what the Crowns have to do in terms of the work."


As well, she said vacant Crown positions in Manitoba's north are adding to the stress for lawyers who are already overworked.


In Thompson, which Mann said has never been properly staffed, there are currently three vacancies and another two jobs haven't been filled in The Pas. That's left Crowns in Winnipeg to pick up the pieces and fill in the gap, she said.


Pop-up dance parties to release stress

Management has taken the issue of low morale seriously and created an employee engagement committee, Mann said.


Meanwhile, one tactic to address workplace morale used by the the Manitoba Prosecution Service is pop-up dance parties at work.


Mann said the five-minute dance parties are meant to release stress and have worked for some staffers, but not others. She said they were in place before the survey was done.


She called on the province to do more, including hiring more Crown attorneys.


As part of the survey, employees were asked what would make them feel more engaged at work. The top five themes that emerged were leadership, capacity, employee morale, culture and communication.


One employee in the anonymous survey called for "management who are there for you and treat you as a person, not just a number."


Government struggling to fill positions: minister

Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said the province is undertaking a number of initiatives to address employees' concerns, and is expanding a mental health program with a focus on early intervention and treatment.


"Our goal is to foster a renewed focus on employee engagement that goes beyond a follow-up of survey results and improves employee satisfaction and morale," Cullen said in a prepared statement.


He said the province is also improving communication with staff and support for professional development opportunities.


In the case of workloads at the Thompson court, Cullen said the province has held a number of competitions to fill positions in the northern city, but the government is still struggling to recruit qualified staff.


He said administration positions have been added at the Thompson court to support the creation of a data entry unit.


The intent is to provide greater support to court clerks in their completion of court paperwork, reducing delays for those accused.