NT Commissioner of Corrections Matthew Varley has asked educators from Territory Families to replace Don Dale Youth Prison when correctional officers go on a 24-hour work stoppage on Monday, according to a departmental document, and follows the budget hearings in late June where the Minister of Corrections refused to disclose staffing shortages in the department.
United Workers Union NT Secretary Erina Early said corrections staff across the territory are protesting the four-year wage freeze announced in November 2020, as well as issues of overcrowding, understaffing and an inadequate corrections budget.
Officers will hold a 24-hour strike on Monday and hold a rally at the corner of Tivendale Rd and Stuart Hwy, Berrimah at 9:45 a.m., and at the Correctional Officers’ Social Club on Tivendale Rd.
A letter sent to staff at Territory Families said Commissioner Varley was looking for support staff to work a 12-hour day shift or 12-hour night shit, as part of NT Corrections’ ‘contingency plan’ .
“Duties may include meal deliveries, reception, gatehouse, low-risk inmate hospital room, general escort of low-risk inmates…” the letter reads.
“Please note that shifts worked will be received [sic] a double time penalty, in addition to your fortnightly nominal salary for TFHC (Territory Families, Housing and Communities).
He warned that any staff who applied for prison officer shifts would still have to work their regular shifts at Don Dale on Mondays and Tuesdays.
“Your shifts will not be replaced to attend the shifts mentioned above for NTCS.”
In late June, corrections officer and shop steward Phil Tilbrook told ABC radio that NT Corrections was a “dysfunctional department”.
“We are not providing the necessary services to our prisoners, we are suffering from severe overcrowding, we have prisoners sleeping on the floor, we have increased lockdowns,” Mr Tilbrook said.
“Yet we are sorely understaffed and are still required to do the same amount of work every day.
“Our numbers are pretty clear: across the country, we’re short about 64 employees.”
In the June 21 budget forecast, Justice Minister Chansey Paech refused to publicly disclose the number of corrections jobs currently vacant, despite having the information, the union said, amid growing concerns over officer safety. corrections and high attrition rates.
Mr Paech took part in the Estimates hearings with Commissioner Varley, but declined to say how many vacancies currently exist or how many the government is currently recruiting for, citing “continuous recruitment” processes.
The pair also wouldn’t disclose how many employees were working on a particular day or how many were missing on a day.
At the time, Ms Early said the minister and commissioner had the figures but were “lying and not being transparent”.
“They all have this information, the day rosters have all the positions filled and the number of vacancies – they know that,” she said.
“I’m sick of heads of government and government agencies lying and not being transparent.”
On Friday, Ms Early said despite a change in chief minister and rising inflation, the Northern Territories government is refusing to offer workers a fair pay rise, forcing corrections officers to go on strike on Monday. This strike follows a previous strike in May.
“Workers will continue to step up their actions until the government comes back to the table with a reasonable offer,” she said.
“Corrections continues to be at crisis levels with overcrowding, understaffing, insufficient budget, etc.
“Correctional officers are suffering and we need to ensure they are properly compensated for the risk they face on a daily basis.
“I urge the government to consider the long-term impacts of its four-year wage freeze.”
NT fixes have been emailed for comment.
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