Series of weekly four-hour stoppages from next Tuesday
Residential care workers and night supervising staff have served notice of industrial action at the Oberstown detention centre in Lusk, County Dublin. The action is set to commence next Tuesday, 31st May.
Earlier this month workers at the centre backed an industrial action ballot by a margin of 95% in a dispute over the safety of clients and staff. The unions, IMPACT and SIPTU, say staff and residents at the understaffed centre, are exposed to daily risk of violent assault.
The unions propose to commence a series of four hour stoppages (from 8am until 12 noon) next Tuesday and continue every Tuesday throughout the month of June (June 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th). Pickets will be placed on both gates onto the campus.
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. IMPACT official Tom Hoare said the union will not hold industrial action at times and dates that would interfere with State examinations being held on campus.
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.
Mr Hoare explained, “Emergency cover will be provided across the campus, which means that 16 frontline staff will remain on duty during the stoppages. These will all be union members. Non-union or agency staff will be required to make their way to the picket line during the stoppage period. Any off-campus trips, such as court dates or routine hospital visits, will not be staffed by union members, except in an emergency situation,” he said.
SIPTU official Ray Stanley said added that the unions accepted some grades will be required to cross the picket lines during the stoppages. “They’ll be supporting the industrial action by performing their normal and essential duties within their contracted hours. Our members have emphasised their desire to maintain high standards of care while the industrial action is taking place,” he said.
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.
The unions have highlighted problems with staff recruitment and retention. Coupled with absences due to assaults, these have left the facility understaffed and incapable of dealing safely with the numbers of offenders in the unit.
The unions have said the recent expansion and refurbishment of the complex was badly planned and implemented, resulting in a totally unsafe living and working environment, and that staff are denied appropriate personal protection and safety equipment.
Unions have also stated that subsequent stop-gap measures, which were supposed to minimise risk to staff and residents, have been both inadequate and ineffective.
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.