Prison reforms a ‘slap in the face’

THE union representing prison officers says the State Government's new jail reform plan is a slap in the face for staff.

Public Service Association's Prison Officers Vocational Branch chairman Steve McMahon said the union would "take off the gloves" after Corrrective Services Minister David Elliott announced the reforms on Sunday.

One reform was throwing open the running of the John Morony Correctional Centre at Windsor to a competitive tender between the public and private sectors.

"The members and the government had been working together to fix overcrowding issue in the state's jails," he said.

"Then they throw in this competitive tendering proposal to establish budget benchmarks.

"We were happy to keep using a hypothetical mode and wanted to keep going that way to establish these benchmarks.

"It's just a kick in the guts for prison officers."

He said the union would consider industrial action, but would not be drawn on what form it could take.

Mr McMahon said the competitive tendering would put publicly run jails at a disadvantage against their privately run competitors.

"A lot of our members are saying the government has set us up to fail," he said.

"I'm not into conspiracy theories, but I can understand how they feel that way.

"The state's been left with the old jails, which are very labour intensive to run.

"It's very difficult to compete against new jails with modern facilities."

Despite these handicaps, Mr McMahon said there were three publicly run jails operating more efficiently than both the state's privately run prisons at Parklea and Junee.

He said this was on of the reasons the union believed the new jail at Grafton should be publicly run.

"If we're not given new stock to work with, it leaves us behind the eight ball," he said.

Mr McMahon was also worried about the casualisation of the workforce in the public system.

"Prison officers are sworn professionals," he said.

"I think the (Justice) Department has confused the professional issue through the way they're advertising jobs.

"We're not casualised to the same degree as the private system, but the department is getting too reliant on casual positions."

Mr McMahon said the current advertising for casual jobs at the old Grafton jail was proof of this.

"There needs to be more focus on employing more full-time professionals than creating a pool of casuals," he said.

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