The Guardian February 21, 2001


Private prison staff lock-down

Ongoing overcrowding at the private Port Phillip Prison in Melbourne 
resulted in industrial action by prison staff on Tuesday, February 13. The 
action came after concern by prison officers at the increased number of 
prisoners being brought into the jail the previous week, swelling numbers 
to 702. The prison was originally commissioned as a 600-bed facility.

There was doubling up in cells in some of the prison's units, prompting the 
staff to refuse to unlock on Tuesday morning due to unsafe working 
conditions.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which represents staff at the 
prison, originally had an agreement with management  British-based 
company Group 4  for a staffing ratio based on 680 inmates.

Under the lock-down with the full shift on duty, the Health and Safety Act 
allows for medication distribution (many of the prisoners are on treatments 
for drug dependency), and kitchen access.

The jail is made up of 13 units, each designed to house up to 60 prisoners. 
Two of the units were up as high as 75 prisoners in the lead up to the 
industrial action.

Following negotiations, management agreed to put more staff into the units, 
plus more security offices at hospital admissions where the inmates go for 
dependency treatment, and at the central control area.

The lock-down ended after lunch on the Tuesday when Group 4 agreed to union 
staffing demands that will deal with problems in the immediate term.

Julian Kennelly from the CPSU said there was no doubt that the problems at 
the prison originally sprang from the facility being a private operation. 
"They tried to run it on the cheap", Mr Kennelly told The Guardian. 
"The end result from the initial problems has been to highly unionise the 
workplace, with negotiated outcomes with Group 4 management.

"So, I suppose we've got the bargaining strength to deal with problems as 
they arise. Training and staff levels have improved. We now have 240 union 
members out of 242 staff.".

The union is currently in negotiations with management for a new enterprise 
agreement. Group 4 run a jail in South Australia and is tendering for a 
jail in the ACT. Mr Kennelly said the company would be keeping in mind the 
Bracks Labor Government's takeover of the Deer Park women's prison from the 
private operators, Correctional Corporation Australia. Deer Park has a 
history of mismanagement, including overcrowding and abuse and inhumane 
treatment of prisoners.

As far as Group 4 at Port Phillip  and Fulham Prison at Sale, which is 
run by Australasian Correctional Management  the minimum the union 
expects of the Bracks Government is for it to open their contracts, which 
expire in 2002 and 2003 respectively, for tender against the public sector.

When the former Kennett Government began its prison privatisation push, it 
legislated to exclude the public sector from tendering for prison 
management.

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