Sunday, March 3, 2013

WA prison officers follow nurses, take strike action

WA Prison Officers' Union banner at rally against
Black deaths in custody in 2010
Prison officers across Western Australia are on strike in an effort to force the Barnett Liberal government to promise a wages and conditions package to prison workers as it did last week to WA nurses.

The WA Prison Officer Union (WAPOU) is demanding a 14% wage increase over three years and measures to alleviate the chronic overcrowding and under-staffing in WA prisons.

The State's prison population has grown by 25% over the previous three years as a consequence of unjust "law and order" policies (such as mandatory sentencing) taken by the Barnett government. 13 out of 14 prisons in WA are already beyond capacity.

The Barnett government's plan for expanding the network to accommodate the growing prison population will still leave a deficit of 1,200 beds by 2015, according to the WAPOU. The union is also campaigning against government plans to save funds by capping the number of prison officers, cut back on overtime pay by not filling roster vacancies and further privatisation of the state's prison system.

The WA Prison Officers Union (WAPOU) is choosing to strike now ahead of the WA state election on March 9 because the government has refused to negotiate with the union over pay and conditions since September last year.

Like the nurses last week, the WAPOU is committed to pressing their demands using the most effective weapon they have to achieve results: industrial action.

John Welch from the WAPOU told ABC news "There will be no prisoners going to court, there will be no visits" until the union's issues are addressed. Pickets outside all the state's prisons continue this week.

[This article by Chris Jenkins was written for Green Left Weekly on March 2, 2013.]