04/27/2013 02:41 EDT | Updated 06/26/2013 05:12 EDT

Alberta Jail Lockdowns: Labour Unrest Affects 5 Institutions, Province Calls Job Action Illegal

hand in jail.

EDMONTON - Alberta's justice minister says remand centre workers who have walked off the job in Alberta are engaging in an illegal job action.

Jonathan Denis was responding early Saturday morning to a strike that began at the Edmonton Remand Centre after a correctional worker was suspended for complaining about safety issues.

Seventy workers who arrived for the Friday afternoon shift refused to go inside, prompting officials to put the facility into lockdown and restrict prisoners to their cells.

A spokesman for Denis confirmed early Saturday that the labour unrest has spread to remand centres in Fort Saskatchewan, Calgary and Lethbridge, as well as the Young Offenders Centre in Edmonton.

Josh Stewart says all those facilities are in "normal nighttime lockdown" and that striking staff have been replaced by police and RCMP officers along with correctional supervisors.

Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees, says the suspension of a union member on Friday was the last straw for correctional officers who have complained about the design of the new Edmonton Remand Centre.

He says the striking workers will stay off the job as long as it takes to get action.

Just days before the jail opened, the AUPE said it found five pages of design flaws after touring the $580 million facility.

At that time Smith asked the provincial government to delay the transfer of prisoners from the old remand centre until the changes were made.

Denis said the province was seeking a court injunction to force the workers back.

"Our first priority is ensuring public safety and security," the minister said.

"Although provincial correctional centres across Alberta are affected, the facilities continue to be securely operated through the assistance of police and management. Contingency plans are in place and being implemented as needed."

He said there would be an investigation of the walkout.

"Any threats to public safety are dealt with swiftly and seriously by this government," he said.

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