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.