PSA condemns E Cape suspension

2013-03-13 18:39

Johannesburg - The Public Servants Association (PSA) on Wednesday condemned the suspension of 122 prison officials in Port Elizabeth for an alleged illegal gathering.

Growing safety concerns at St Albans Prison, where recent violent attacks by inmates left several warders seriously injured, resulted in the PSA calling a members' meeting last week at the prison, the union said in a statement.

PSA deputy general manager Manie de Clercq said: "Management granted approval for the PSA meeting and... was requested to address the meeting.

"When they failed to comply with the request, the members approached the management area in an orderly manner to again request management's attendance."

After management failed to address them, the PSA members dispersed and returned to their stations, where they were later confronted and suspended.

The 122 PSA members had since received notices to attend a disciplinary hearing from 18 March to 22 March.

The association blamed the current safety situation on the 2009 introduction by the correctional services department of varying shift models, to save costs on overtime payments.

"No collective agreement permits the averaging of working hours. Despite this, the department implemented shift systems contrary to the Basic Conditions Employment Act," said De Clerq.

"This resulted in severe under-staffing and in 2012 the DCS further cut the already-pressured establishment by more than 10%."

No quick solution

The association said it had raised the issue with both the national commissioner and Parliament's correctional services portfolio committee.

The department later admitted that 18 000 new employees would need to be appointed to adequately address the situation, said the PSA.

"There is no quick solution to this problem which is rooted in a severe staff shortage," said De Clercq.

"In the face of this, the ill-considered decision by the DCS to suspend 122 employees, who were acting within their rights, is set to impact on a highly volatile situation."

This would have safety implications for other employees, inmates and even the public, believed De Clercq.

DCS regional spokesperson Zama Feni said: "The department will not be able to comment on the matter as proceedings are underway, with the hearing to start on 18 March."