Minister’s answers heighten Rogers’ concerns for HMP workers
NDP Justice critic Gerry Rogers (MHA, St. John’s Centre) focused attention Wednesday in the House of Assembly on working conditions at Her Majesty’s Penitentiary, citing the large amount of 24-hour shifts, overtime, and shifts without meal breaks being worked by people at the Pen.
She returned to this topic on Thursday, and says the Minister’s responses cause her even more concern. Far from sending signals that he has respect for the workers, says Rogers, some people have suggested to her that the Minister’s plan to investigate medical leave program, accommodations, the use of split shifts, and finding an alternative to trained guards being off-site escorts (for example, when an inmate is in hospital) sounds more retaliatory than resolution-focused.
“There’s little wonder that workers are reporting stress levels that are through the roof,” says Rogers. “They have very valid concerns about understaffing, and are met with the suggestion that they take too much sick leave and can be easily replaced – presumably by less qualified people – as escorts to inmates who go into the community.
“It is also inconceivable that anyone in 2015 thinks split shifts are a permanent solution to staffing problems.”
Workers have told Rogers that in 2013-14, three positions at HMP were cut (recreation director, van driver, and classifications officer). That work still needs to be done, so the six workers in the general duties pool, who would normally be responsible for meal and other relief work, end up doing the work that would have been done by those three workers.
“The minister should look at creating full-time permanent rather than futilely attempting to recruit workers from other provinces to come here for a tenuous position in the pool of casual workers,” says Rogers.