Guards at Cape Breton jail refusing to work over discovery of asbestos

SYDNEY, N.S. – Guards at the Cape Breton Correctional Facility were refusing to work Friday over the discovery of asbestos in the provincial jail where about 80 inmates are being held.


Joan Jessome, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said the guards refused to show up for Thursday’s night shift and again Friday morning after the union learned of the problem this week.


About 10 officers work each shift.


“This is all within the last 48 hours,” Jessome said when asked when they learned about the asbestos.


“Now the employer has known about this since probably last fall when the ombudsman got a complaint.”


Jessome said an inmate told the ombudsman in the fall that he spotted asbestos covering some pipes in the jail outside Sydney.


She said the Justice Department was ordered to do testing and the results confirmed the presence of the flame-retarding mineral that has been linked to cancer.


Jessome said the guards’ refusal to work is allowed under the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act.


“What they’ve done is not a work stoppage,” she said. “What they’ve done is exercise their right to refuse to do the work because they believe it’s unsafe.”


Jessome said Labour Department inspectors were at the jail Friday and “management has been pretty much doing the work of the officers.”


She said the guards would return to work if air-quality testing determines there is no danger.


Jessome said the union was told the Justice Department was considering moving the inmates elsewhere in the provincial jail system if the problem can’t be resolved quickly.


A Justice Department spokesperson wasn’t immediately available for comment.




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