The statewide prison lockdown was temporarily suspended by union members this morning while they continue to fight for their safety at the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC).
Public Service Association of South Australia (PSA) union representatives spent the day in an IRC hearing with representatives from the Department of Corrections to discuss the safety of prison workers.
Assistant General Secretary Natasha Brown said the union members agreed to lift the lockdown only temporarily while the hearing continued.
Ms Brown yesterday told The Standard that workers at Mobilong Prison had initiated the lockdown due to concerns for their safety.
“Mobilong is an open-space prison that is not high security and our members have been raising concerns for months about high-risk prisoners being transferred there,” she said.
Minister for Correctional Services Pete Malinauskas said the department did not accept union claims that Mobilong workers were at risk.
“My advise from the department is that’s not occurring, there has already been a very lengthy procedure gone through in the industrial relations commission to address that concern,” he said.
“Prisons are dangerous places; corrections has always been a risky environment and it always will be.”
He said it was legitimate that the union wanted to minimise these risks for workers but the government’s first obligation was to keep the South Australian community safe.
“We don’t want to see anyone working in the prison environment put at risk, but at the same time we want to make sure we keep prisoners out of the community to keep the general community safe,” he said.
On the issue of overcrowding, Mr Malinauskas said the state’s prison system had experienced unprecedented growth, but the department considered the safety of staff its first priority.
He said he was disappointed the union had been “so quick and hasty” to initiate industrial action and now that it was lifted, he hoped to see as many workers in the corrections sector return to work as quickly as possible.
Mr Malinauskas said the department would continue to negotiate with the PSA union.
Shadow Minister for Correctional Services Stephan Knoll said the statewide lockdown came after Mr Malinauskas admitted in Parliament that South Australia had been using expensive surge capacity in the prison system since the November 3 2011, 1932 days ago.
“It is staggering that for almost 2000 days the Weatherill Government has been running the prison system over capacity putting staff and prisons at increased risk.
“Latest figures show the overcrowding of prisons is costing taxpayers an extra $51 million a year at a time when the Weatherill Government is cutting hospital services across Adelaide.
“South Australia’s prison population swelled to over 3,000 for the first time in the State’s history last year and has increased by 31 per cent during the past 3 years,” he said.