Tensions between the union and State Government have been brewing for months over a department benchmarking exercise to determine how savings can be recouped from the state’s correctional services budget.
The union claims the Government has used modelling from interstate prisons to determine how it can downsize staff across the state’s six public-funded prisons by about 20 per cent.
It says the Government has refused to disclose details of the modelling it is using, or if it is considering privatising the prison system completely.
PSA general secretary Nev Kitchin told InDaily the decision to implement a statewide prison lockdown was made this morning, following news from the Government that it had identified about 40 full-time positions it could axe from Mobilong Prison in Murray Bridge.
He said while the Government is prohibited from forcibly retrenching workers as part of an enterprise agreement, there was a strong indication that it was “gearing up to downsize the prison workforce and even outsource it”.
“What we’re saying to the Department is, that’s almost a third of the workforce, how on earth can you run a prison with a third less officers and still maintain (the) safety of the prisoners, the officers and the community?,” Kitchin said.
“It’s just become a ridiculous fiasco.”
Kitchin said the Government had earmarked another four positions that could be cut from Adelaide Women’s Prison, despite it pledging more than $26,000 in last month’s State Budget to grow the prison’s capacity by 40 beds.
He claimed Mobilong Prison staff were this morning told by the Department for Correctional Services that unless they ended the prison lockdown, they would be stood down.
According to the union, a similar demand was made to Port Lincoln prison staff this morning.
“We’re waiting now to hear back from our members at Mobilong whether they’ve been forced out,” Kitchin said.
“They said to them this morning, ‘If you are refusing to unlock we don’t want you here at all, get out’.
“The lockdown will be for the rest of today (but) if the department stand down all members across the state it could go longer.”
Kitchin told FIVEaa radio this morning that prison staff would remain on-site during the lockdown to provide food and medical attention to prisoners and to take prisoners to court.
He said the union would not disclose what further action it planned on taking.
“All I can say is that’s it’s a very unstable environment,” he said.
In a statement to InDaily, a department spokesperson did not deny that some prison staff were warned that they would be stood down if they continued the lockdown.
“It is always our expectation that staff carry out their full duties and work as directed by their general manager,” the spokesperson said.
“The Department’s key focus is on bringing an end to this industrial action and for our prisons to resume normal operations as a matter of urgency.”
Speaking from Melbourne this morning, Treasurer Rob Lucas said that no amount of industrial action was going to change the Government’s position on reducing spending on the state’s prison system.
He also alluded to the potential for further privatisation of some prisons in line with the cost-cutting exercise.
“This particular decision has been taken in the interest of the taxpayers, it saves millions of dollars a year and, contrary to the claims that have been made, all jobs that prison officers have are guaranteed,” he said.
“They will continue to work with the new provider or they will have a position in one of the government prisons in South Australia.”
Lucas said the Employment Tribunal had ruled in favour of the Government’s plan to outsource the Adelaide Remand Centre to the private sector.
“This is a knee-jerk response from the union bosses in response to that particular decision,” he said.
“In relation to benchmarking issues elsewhere, all we can do in relation to that is we’re trying to run, in the interest of taxpayers, the best, the most efficient system.
“Ultimately, it’s very hard for anyone to argue against that.”
Lucas said it would ultimately be up to the Correctional Services Minister Corey Wingard and his department to determine if prison officer jobs would be cut.
“The only decision we’ve implemented or indeed contemplated in corrections is in relation to the Adelaide Remand Centre.
“We have no proposals at all for outsourcing… for example, Yatala, in the next three years leading to the election.”
Shadow Correctional Services Minister Lee Odenwalder described the lockdown as a “dramatic escalation of the crisis in our prison system”.
“There’s a very big fear all across the public sector, but particularly in the prison system, that there’s more privatisation to come,” he said.
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