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Tell us secret prison benchmarking behind job cuts: union

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The prison officers union is demanding access to confidential details of a benchmarking program used to identify potential job cuts in SA prisons.

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The union is today meeting with Correctional Services Department management for talks ordered by the SA Employment Tribunal following yesterday’s unauthorised prisons lockdown.

Public Service Association general secretary Nev Kitchin says today’s talks will be held in an atmosphere where “the relationship between the membership and DCS management is at an all-time low”.

“There is absolutely no trust left, and there have been two motions of no confidence already in David Brown, the chief executive officer,” Kitchin said.

Prison officers yesterday took action which locked down prisons across the state, except the privately-run jail at Mt Gambier.

The unauthorised action, taken without giving legally required notice, prompted the Department of Treasury and Finance on behalf of Correctional Services to take the union to the Employment Tribunal to seek an order to lift work bans and end the lockdown.

The tribunal imposed a four-week ban on union industrial action within prisons – effective from last night until 7pm Wednesday, August 7 – and ordered immediate talks between the union, department and Treasury officials on the government’s Better Prisons program.

Yesterday’s surprise lockdown came after the union learned that, under the program, the government had identified 39.1 full-time-equivalent positions it could axe from Mobilong Prison in Murray Bridge.

The union said this was equivalent to 57 actual positions within the prison, and would mean slashing the workforce by one third.

The government also said it had identified four positions which could be axed from Adelaide Women’s Prison, while opening extra beds.

The PSA said while the Government could not forcibly retrench workers as part of a current enterprise agreement, there was a belief that it was preparing to cut and possibly outsource the Mobilong workforce.

After yesterday’s lockdown began, Corrections Minister Corey Wingard said that having privatised the operation of the Adelaide Remand Centre, there was no intention to privatise any other SA prisons during the government’s current term of office.

Kitchin said the union and prison officers were increasingly frustrated that the government was actively measuring and benchmarking SA prison efficiencies against other prisons, including those privately run, but not revealing how it arrived at decisions to cut jobs or increase prison capacity without extra staff.

“The way they’re doing this formula, they won’t tell us,” he said.

“And because we have no comparison guidelines, we can’t try to counter-argument against it.

“We can’t say you can’t do that, you’re using the measurement from Mt Gambier, which is low security, different physical build – everything’s different.

“Based on the figures they’re using for Mobilong, you would almost lose a third of the workforce. It would be impossible. There would be a risk to officers, the prisoners, the community.”

Kitchin said the union would observe the tribunal’s industrial action ban – unless there was an “emergency” – but was determined to gain access to the benchmarking system to ensure it was “fair and balanced”.

A spokesman for Corrections Services Minister Wingard said the Government could not divulge information about the operation of other, interstate prisons as it contained sensitive information and was commercial-in-confidence, and only given to the department on that understanding.

He said DCS was looking to work with the union on moderation of a preliminary benchmark, and that benchmarking was about examining budgets, resources and “making sure those resources are in the right place at the right time”.

“It’s about looking at the strengths and weaknesses in our system and identifying which sites are performing the best and how we can replicate best practice across other sites.”

Treasurer Rob Lucas said yesterday that benchmarking was used because “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.”

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