Unions walk out over warders’ shifts

2011-02-11 00:00

THE standoff between the Department of Correctional Services and unions over new shift schedules seems likely to continue as the unions have allegedly abandoned the negotiation process.

This was revealed by regional commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele yesterday.

Since early last year the unions and the department have been embroiled in disputes over the shifts that the prison warders work. This led to pickets at prisons across the province and even court cases.

Initially the unions and the department agreed that the warders should work a 12-hour shift for four days and rest for four.

However, the department encountered numerous problems with this shift schedule once it was implemented. The workers worked seven days with two days off in the interim while the negotiations continued, although they were opposed to this shift.

On Wednesday, a daily newspaper reported that about 200 workers at Westville prison who had started picketing there were given an ultimatum to get back to work or face disciplinary hearings.

“For several years the department has experienced staff shortages and with this [12-hour] shift schedule we found that some of the department’s core functions were no longer being fulfilled properly,” said Nxele. “We found that due to staff shortages, some of the prisoners were no longer being taken to court, to see doctors or to their psychologist.”

Nxele said the department identified the problems and proposed a new shift schedule under which the warders would work for 10 days and get four days off.

“But some of the unions did not agree and left the negotiations.”

He urged them to return to the negotiations.

Kwenza Nxumalo of the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru) confirmed there were no negotiations taking place.

“We are waiting for them to come to us because negotiations are what we want .

“… we are flexible. We want a situation whereby the decisions are taken on consultation.”

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