Staff plan New Year strike over continuing violence at Oberstown

 

IMPACT members working at Oberstown Children Detention Campus (Oberstown) have overwhelmingly backed strike action because of ongoing fears over the safety of staff facing violent incidents at the detention centre. A ballot of 128 staff at Oberstown returned a vote of almost 94% in favour of strike action.

IMPACT’s health and welfare executive will meet next Wednesday, 7th December, to consider the application for industrial action, after which formal notice will be served to the employer. However, the union has continued to keep management informed of the ballot and the intention to engage in strike action.

The union plans to commence a withdrawal of labour by residential care workers, night supervising officers and middle management grades from Tuesday 3rd January 2017.

The union has taken the unusual step of giving a longer notice period in order to enable management to put alternative care and security arrangements in place during the planned strike.

The minimum legal strike notice requirement is one week.

IMPACT said the decision to strike was a result of management’s refusal to make personal protective clothing available in dangerous situations, where there was a high risk of assaults on staff.

Its assistant general secretary Tom Hoare said management was failing to meet its health and safety obligations, despite the fact that violent assaults are a regular hazard on the Oberstown campus. He said senior managers had failed to engage meaningfully on the issue because they were ideologically opposed to taking the necessary steps to ensure staff safety, even in situations where violent assaults were likely or underway.

“Oberstown management is in denial about the level of risk to its staff. We are simply seeking the provision of adequate personal protective clothing and equipment for use when care staff encounter violence and the threat of violence. This would be uncontroversial in any other working environment, let alone one with a long history, and continuing reality, of violent incidents and assaults on workers.

The most recent official figures (supplied by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs) revealed over 100 violent incidents in Oberstown in 2015, 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 members have reported to the union that violence, and the threat of violence, remains a daily occurrence on the campus.

Mr Hoare said: “The continuing threat of yet more serious injuries to staff can no longer be ignored by management or, indeed, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. IMPACT has tried to resolve this through negotiation, but we have not been able to shift an intransigent management, which is fully aware of the daily risk of assaults at Oberstown. There is no other working environment in Ireland where staff are exposed to such risk and the employer point-blank refuses to provide protective clothing,” he said.

IMPACT said it would not stand in the way of any measures management employed to provide cover during the dispute. But it said it would not ask its members to provide emergency cover because of the risk of serious injuries, like those that occurred during an eight-hour work stoppage that took place last August, when a member of staff was assaulted and seriously injured.

“I have told the campus director that IMPACT will not object to any cover arrangements he puts in place during the period of industrial action, and the union has given management over a month to make its arrangements. We will work with management to ensure a smooth transition to whatever alternative care and security arrangements it wants to put in place on 3rd January. Needless to say, we are also available to discuss the core issue of the provision of essential protective clothing in violent and potentially violent situations. But we need to see a far more realistic approach from management,” said Mr Hoare.