Residential care workers and supervising staff are taking part in an eight-hour work stoppage at the Oberstown youth detention centre today (Monday 29th August) in a dispute over poor safety measures and increasing assaults on the campus. Full emergency cover will remain in place during the stoppage, which commenced at 8am this morning. The action will see residents confined to their rooms between 8am and 4pm.
SIPTU and IMPACT trade unions have said that the action is part of an ongoing industrial dispute in response to the increase in attacks on staff at the State’s only youth detention centre.
Staff at Oberstown took part in a four-hour stoppage in May, while attempts to resolve the issue through talks at the Workplace Relations Commission have so far been unsuccessful. The unions have served notice of more stoppages due to take place on Monday 5th, 12th and 19th September.
IMPACT official Tom Hoare said: “While there has been consistent efforts to resolve this dispute, the staff are still facing the daily risk of assault and injury. Oberstown care workers are doing the work of prison staff with the facilities and equipment of a residential care home. The number of assaults on staff has continued to grow since the expansion of Oberstown to facilitate the transfer of offenders from the prison service.”
Mr Hoare has said the new 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,” he said.
SIPTU Organiser, Ray Stanley said: “Recently, through a third party mediator, union representatives and senior management in Oberstown agreed a document aimed at addressing staff concerns through comprehensive structures and timeframes. We believe this document has the potential to create a platform to deal with members’ deeply held safety concerns. Unfortunately, the solutions identified by the IMPACT and SIPTU members were flatly rejected by management and union members have no choice but to take this action.”
The most recent official figures (supplied by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs) 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.
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
- The unions have continuously raised urgent concerns over time delays involved in supporting colleagues in units where disturbances and violent situations arise
- A request by IMPACT not to move existing units that are clustered together, a move which would significantly increase the response time and potential injury rate in the event of a serious incident, was dismissed by the employer.
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. 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.