Dispute over shift: prison warders locked out

2010-11-09 00:00

PRISON warders at Ncome Prison near Vryheid were allegedly locked out by the prison stability unit yesterday in an attempt to force them to work a new shift schedule that has been imposed by the regional commissioner, Mnikelo Nxele.

The workers said they arrived for their morning shift yesterday to find that the prison stability unit was already inside both prisons and had locked them out.

They ordered them to a meeting to address issues about their shift schedule.

A source at the prison, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, said that for the past month the regional commissioner has been trying to change the shift schedule of the warders.

This, however, is apparently in contravention of the agreement signed between Correctional Services and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

According to the agreement, the workers are supposed to work four days and get get four days off.

The new agreement apparently requires that they work seven days and get two days off.

This arrangement was rejected by the workers, saying they consider it unfair, and that led to the lockout yesterday morning.

“When we arrived for our morning shift we found that a large contingent of the prison stability unit was already inside the prison and had locked us out,” said the source.

During the meeting, he added, they were threatened with dismissal if they failed to work according to the new schedule.

“The commissioner simply told us that we will work the shift whether we like it or not.”

Another source said the changes are tantamount to exploitation.

“One of our concerns is that such changes are decisions that could only be made nationally and these changes only seem to be happening here,” he added.

Kwenza Nxele, the KwaZulu-Natal secretary-general of Popcru, said that the union was not aware that the warders had been locked out but knew that there were problems resulting from shift schedule changes.

He said the problems were mainly as a result of the employer trying to change the working conditions without adhering to the guidelines that were agreed during the negotiations.

The Department of Correctional Services was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of going to press.

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