As the provincial government continues to ignore repeated requests to provide vaccines and rapid testing at adult and youth correctional facilities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 among staff and offenders, the SGEU Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) bargaining unit is calling for Health Minister Paul Merriman to step up – or step down. Family members and others in the community are also at risk when staff and inmates are infected with the deadly virus.
The SGEU PS/GE, which represents correctional staff across Saskatchewan, has sounded the alarm over the past week after seeing cases among staff and inmates more than triple. An escalating outbreak of COVID-19 at the Regina Correctional Centre has resulted in five inmates being hospitalized so far, further straining Regina’s overburdened health system.
“It’s time for the health minister to step up and do what’s necessary: get correctional officers, staff, and inmates vaccinated now,” said Barry Nowoselsky, chair of the PS/GE bargaining unit.” “The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) recommended months ago that correctional facilities receive priority vaccinations, yet the government seems ideologically opposed to doing the right thing and following its own experts’ medical advice.”
“If Paul Merriman isn’t prepared to act in the best interests of Saskatchewan people, he should step down and let someone else take charge.”
Workers are concerned that they will be exposed to the virus on the job, then take it home to their families and into their communities. The Government of Saskatchewan’s decision to stick to a primarily age-based vaccination program and dismiss the concerns of at-risk frontline workers across sectors who have been calling for action, shows a refusal to acknowledge the reality of what’s happening throughout the province.
“To have our health minister claim that correctional centres are easily able to isolate infected inmates, or to suggest that age-based vaccinations are appropriate in such shared living settings, shows an alarming ignorance of the situation,” said Nowoselsky.
“Minister Merriman’s comments and excuses demonstrate that he is either out of touch with reality, or staying willfully ignorant of a dangerous situation,” Nowoselsky said. “He’s been nothing other than uncaring, inflexible and unwilling to listen to common sense or advice from health experts and medical professionals. It's time for him to do better, or it's time for him to step down.”
In addition to staff in adult and youth corrections, the SGEU PS/GE bargaining unit also represents many other members working on the frontlines and at high-risk during the pandemic, including child protection workers, highway patrol officers, conservation officers, deputy sheriffs, wildland firefighters and others.
For more information, contact:
Communications Officer, SGEU