Public service unions are furious that Arthur Fraser, commissioner of the correctional services department, has designated nonessential staff in prison as “critical staff” and expects them to show up for work during the 21-day lockdown which starts at midnight on Thursday.
Workers were not clear whether to report for duty, as union leaders and the government butted heads in the Safety and Security Sectoral Bargaining Council earlier on Thursday, with the unions adamant that “we are putting our foot down”.
A circular, dated Wednesday, and which Fraser signed, was sent to all branch heads and regional commissioners, saying prison officials in charge of security, nutritional services, healthcare and community corrections formed part of essential service workers and had to report for duty.
However, Fraser also added 20 other services to the list, which effectively “declares everyone as critical services”, according to a union insider.
The critical categories include maintenance and repairs, communication, cleaning services, information and communications technology, human resources management and development, education, social work, religious care, psychological services, supply chain, finance, parole board, case management committees, employee relations, employee wellness, agriculture and production workshops, facilities, assurance services and risk management.
“The worst of this is that just hours before the lockdown, our members do not know whether to report or not – some are not essential. It is also about the benefits that go with being essential because we do not want a situation in which they will work and not be rewarded in line with the criteria that cover all those essential jobs,” said a public service union leader, speaking on condition of anonymity, as negotiations continued in the bargaining council on Thursday.
“We are putting our foot down that Public Service Act appointees should be on a lockdown,” said a person who was part of the negotiations.
“I am of the opinion that we should tell these categories not to report for duty during the lockdown to minimise the spread of the virus,” the person said in a text communication with another union leader, which City Press has seen.