Corrections update: A system in crisis and our plan
It's not an exaggeration, or alarmist, to say that the Corrections system is in crisis.
Overcrowding is locked in and will not reduce in any meaningful way for years. Assaults are becoming a daily occurrence. Overtime is through the roof and stress is too. At the same time Corrections Officers remain the lowest paid in the country and the department and government appear to be doing nothing meaningful to fix any of this.
At the delegate conference in July our strategy was discussed and endorsed. It is based on a number of elements, combining disputes in the Commission and under the Work Health and Safety Act. These are the key actions underway:
Directive 12/12 Declaration
Members had secured improvements to progression arrangements as part of the 2016 Collective Agreement.
These allowed members to progress all the way to CO1-7 without the Cert IV that had been required, and to CO1-9 once the Cert IV was obtained. This resulted in hundreds of members progressing beyond the logjams that had built up at CO1-4 and CO1-7 and improved opportunities for new members.
As part of that agreement a clause was put in to note that if the Award overtook the Agreement rates in the life of the Agreement the Agreement rates would prevail. This was done in good faith.
Just before negotiations for the new Agreement commenced, the Minister of Industrial Relations sent out a message to all Core Agreement members, including admin members in Corrections. That message claimed that the effect of Directive 12/12, a Directive released under the previous LNP Government, was that no matter what was in an Agreement, if the Award rates were higher they would prevail.
This brought into question the legal status of the rates being paid. We attempted to resolve this problem during bargaining but this did not occur and we went into arbitration.
Before the arbitration can commence we must make sure of what rates of pay members are legally entitled to. We have sought a Declaration by a Full Bench of the Queensland Industrial Relation Commission (QIRC) as to what the legal status of your pay rates is. We have been granted permission by the Full Bench to seek legal counsel and therefore have engaged a Barrister for that Full Bench matter and a hearing has been set for 9, 10 and 11 December.
After months of negotiations for a new Agreement, an offer was finally made that cut Agreement and Award conditions and kept Corrections Officers as the lowest paid in the country. That offer was categorically rejected by the members and led to unprecedented strike action.
When no better offer was made the agreement was referred to arbitration on 27 June.
The dates for the arbitration will be set after the 12/12 Declaration is decided and the hearing will occur in the new year. All matters in dispute during the negotiations will form part of our proposed declaration, including, but not limited to:
- an improved classification structure
- 10 days' sick leave
- increases to the Aggregated Shift Allowance
On Saturday 21 September the Government announced a change to wages policy with the addition of a one-off payment of $1250 where an agreement is reached. As we are in arbitration you are not eligible for the $1250 one-off payment unless we withdraw from arbitration and accept the 2.5% on current pay rates. While we have not been approached by QCS with a new offer, initial reactions from delegates and members is that a one off payment that doesn't increase base pay and would still leave CCOs as the lowest paid in the country will not be acceptable. Should we get an offer we will, of course, seek members' views.
Work Health and Safety Act
While the 12/12 declaration and the Arbitration can address concerns around wages and conditions, they won't deal with assaults and other safety issues currently facing corrections. That's why we have lodged a dispute under the Work Health and Safety Act and have sought an extensive list of documents from QCS that they should have in order to meet their obligations under the Act. Should QCS not provide those documents, or should they prove to be inadequate, the dispute will be escalated to the Industrial Inspectorate and ultimately to the QIRC, under its WHS jurisdiction.
You can see copies of the various correspondence relating to this dispute here:
Where to next?
Members will be continue to be updated. While there is no magic bullet to fix the crisis in Corrections we will continue to lobby the government, Treasury, the Minister and the Department to fix the problems. We will continue pressure in the community and through the media to support that effort.
Members can keep updated through email, Facebook and through their delegates.