Residential care workers and supervising staff will commence industrial action at the Oberstown youth detention centre this morning (Tuesday) in a dispute over poor safety measures and increasing assaults on the campus. Their unions, IMPACT and SIPTU, say full emergency cover is in place, and there will be no disruption of state exams at the facility.
The action will see residents confined to their rooms between 8am and noon. Further four-hour stoppages are planned for each Tuesday in June. Meanwhile, unions and management have been invited to talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on Wednesday 1st June.
The industrial action comes against the background of a high and growing number of attacks on staff since the expansion of the State’s only youth detention centre to facilitate the transfer of offenders from the prison service. SIPTU and IMPACT say staff and residents are exposed to daily risk of violent assault.
The Oberstown campus currently caters for 48 under-18s, including a mix of vulnerable young offenders and violent criminals with multiple convictions for serious offences. The most recent official figures revealed over 100 violent incidents in Oberstown last year, almost half of which were classed as ‘critical’. Critical assaults and injuries necessitated a total of 3,005 employee sick days, involving 65 staff members.
IMPACT official Tom Hoare said: “A series of policy decisions has left Oberstown care workers doing the work of prison staff with the facilities and equipment of a residential care home. The campus is badly designed, with inadequate safety equipment to deal with a mix of vulnerable young people and violent offenders. The result is a daily risk of serious assault, which leaves many of the staff literally in fear of their lives as they leave for work each day. The unions say:
- The expansion and refurbishment of the complex was badly planned and implemented, resulting in a totally unsafe living and working environment
- Subsequent stop-gap measures, which were supposed to minimise risk to staff and residents, have been both inadequate and ineffective
- Staff are denied appropriate personal protection and safety equipment
- Staff recruitment and retention problems, coupled with absences due to assaults, mean the facility is often understaffed and, therefore, incapable of dealing safely with the numbers of offenders.
SIPTU official Ray Stanley said the unions had raised safety concerns on a daily basis in recent years. “While there has been a management response, it has been wholly inadequate and totally ineffective. Meanwhile, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs don’t want to know. As a result, dedicated staff feel they have been forced to take industrial action,” he said.
The staff concerned work at three schools on the campus: Oberstown Boys School, Oberstown Girls School and Trinity House. Responsibility for the campus was transferred from the Department of Justice to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs in 2012.