Some 200 officers at Goulburn Correctional Centre have returned to work following a near 70-hour strike.
The move came after 8am Monday when the Prison Officers Vocational Branch’s (POVB) state executive met onsite with members.
POVB chair Jason Charlton said about 100 members attended the meeting and voted to return. They walked off the job at noon Friday, citing safety, staffing and other concerns. The strike triggered a prisoner lock down over the weekend and forced management to run the facility.
The Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) ruled on Friday that officers had to return to work. However, they refused and many joined in a protest outside the correctional centre over the weekend.
Mr Charlton said Monday’s breakthrough came after Corrective Services assistant commissioner Kevin Corcoran and southern region deputy director, John Harrison agreed to meet with the union on Tuesday. It will also include local delegates and Public Service Association industrial officers.
They will discuss the centre’s security in light of a staff restructure and deletion of a mid-tier, front line management level. Workers claimed it had compromised their safety and ability to respond to inmate uprisings. They are also angry about prisoner attacks on officers, courts’ responses to these, and workers compensation arrangements.
Matters also came to a head in recent weeks following a visit by the inspector of custodial services to the prison. Staff claimed the governor had dismissed their concerns about the inspector’s “impromptu” request to tour a yard. The union said officers were busy in another yard at the time and didn’t believe the request could be safely managed.
All of these points were be tabled to the IRC on Monday.
Mr Charlton said while local issues were at play, staff at other NSW correctional centres also walked off the job on Friday in support of Goulburn. They returned to work over the weekend but Goulburn officers refused.
“It’s good the (Goulburn) staff are back at work today and good that the department is meeting with us for further consultation to help resolve the situation,” he told The Post.
“POVB members are angry about a whole range of issues. There have been serious incidents including hostage situations (up north) and security issues during inmate medical escorts.”
The union met with the Commissioner Peter Severin and Corrective Services Minister Anthony Roberts about the matters two weeks ago.
While these talks were “fruitful,” Mr Charlton said the strike action emerged out of “a lot of frustration” from workers.
At the same time, they and the union are grappling with the State’s prison bed capacity reforms. These aim to address the shortfall in inmate beds.
Mr Charlton said he had not realised how much the relationship had deteriorated until Monday’s meeting.
“The group was quite emotional about it,” he said.
“…Our role is to ensure we have respectful relations and articulate the issues to management rather than concentrate on personalities. They are angry with the governor but that happens in any industry where people can get upset with the boss.”
POVB Goulburn branch chair Owen O’Neill said members extensively discussed their concerns with the union’s state executive on Sunday.
“At 11am a group of over 30 staff gathered at the front of the prison,” he said.
Many officers joined a protest outside the jail from 9am Saturday to Sunday afternoon that was “upbeat and friendly.” Mr O’Neill said it was not a picket and staff didn’t hinder management, individuals or vehicles entering the facility.
“I’m proud of my workmates who have dug in their heels and stuck with their convictions,” he said.
“We don’t undertake this type of action lightly. Many of us have lost close to three days’ wages which include weekend penalty rates.”
He said Corrective Services had signalled disciplinary action for their failure to return to work. This could include monetary fines, demotion or suspension.
Mr Charlton said the union would fight any such move and argue it was part of collective action.
In a statement over the weekend, a Corrective Services spokesman said the strike had not compromised jail security and the department was always willing to engage with officers about improvements.