Correctional officers walk out on the job

ON STRIKE: Mount Gambier Prison staff walk out on the job to protest what they label as unfair conditions.

Charlotte Varcoe

THE first industrial action carried out in a private prison within the state’s history occurred recently as correctional officers at the Mount Gambier Prison walked out of the job.

Approximately 100 correctional officers left their shift early on Friday in protest of what has been labelled difficult working conditions.

Staff marched from Kieselbach Road to the entrance of the prison as many more staff left their shift hours early, leaving “skeleton staff” numbers for the evening.

United Workers Union representative and organiser of the event, Darren Roberts said the union had been in constant negotiations with prison owners G4S.

Mr Roberts said there were five fundamental issues being discussed including short staffing, wage increases, medication dispensary, food preparation and for supervisors to be recognised within the agreement at their current rate.

“Prison officers should be in safe numbers during rosters and this has not been the case at the prison for some time,” Mr Roberts said.

“Prison staff and correctional officers have also been told to dispense medication to prisoners and we feel this is a role which should be carried out by nurses.

“There has been ongoing instruction that officers should do this, however we feel it should only happen in an emergency situation.”

He said since negotiations, G4S had recognised the issue surrounding the issue and has since made an amendment within the negotiation.

“Another thing is that we don’t think it is appropriate for prisoners to be preparing the meals for correctional officers nor is it reasonable that correctional officers don’t have the ability to have a mental break away from their workstation to go and have a meal,” Mr Roberts said.

“We feel like that should be recognised or the officers should be compensated in some form.”

He said those who participated in the industrial action exhibited how united the working group was and the support they had for each other.

“The overall action was an outstanding result and there were a number of officers who were on protected industrial action and then there was also another group late on who did not go to their shift,” Mr Roberts said.

“The prison had contingency plans in place and there were enough staff to ensure the safety of the prisoners – the prison was essentially running on reduced staff which also meant it locked down early.”

He said the union had previously requested 15 new staff for the Mount Gambier facility, yet had only received seven, labelling the career pathway as “undesirable”.

A G4S spokesperson said the organisation respected the right of the United Workers Union to take protected industrial action.

“We are disappointed that this step has been taken, given the highly beneficial package that has been presented,” the spokesperson said.

“At this stage, the offer remains on the table and the parties agreed to meet again on December 8.”