Kalgoorlie prison officers strike, claiming ‘dangerous staffing shortage’
Union officials Andy Smith and Paul Ledingham with prison officers outside the Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jenelle Miles )
About 50 guards at a prison in regional Western Australia walked off the job on Thursday morning, claiming tensions over staffing shortages had reached boiling point.
The three-hour industrial action at Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison (EGRP) was the first prison strike in WA since 2013.
It comes nearly six months after the mass riot and breakout at Greenough Regional Prison near Geraldton.
An independent report found that incident was caused by staff shortages and frequent cell lockdowns.
Overtime restrictions lifted in wake of Greenough riot
The WA Prison Officers’ Union said the Kalgoorlie facility currently employed about 150 prison officers, with 26 vacancies.
Union secretary Andy Smith said the prison was only operational now due to the recent lifting of overtime restrictions, in the wake of the Greenough prison riot.
“In order to man the prison to the safe staffing levels, our members are working inordinate numbers of overtime, so they work fatigued,” he said.
“If we don’t fill those positions, we have the potential of another Greenough situation, where we don’t have prison officers on duty, keeping the prison safe.”
The union also warned more than 90 officers were on a waitlist to be transferred back to Perth, after serving their required time in Kalgoorlie.
But EGRP Superintendent John Hedges said that figure was closer to 60, because it included officers with multiple transfer applications.
‘I’ve been stabbed in the head, punched in the face’
The union has called on the WA Government to implement incentive packages to encourage staff to move to Kalgoorlie, including housing assistance and utilities assistance to ease the cost of living.
The ABC spoke with several EGRP officers who said they would stay in Kalgoorlie, if they were given incentives similar to what is offered at prisons in the state’s north.
The prison also struggled to attract new and local staff, who can earn higher salaries working in the local mining industry.
Staff told the ABC they came to work in fear of a riot, due to the staff shortages.
Prison officers outside Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison take action. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Jenelle Miles)
A senior officer with five years’ experience said he worked at West Kimberley Regional Prison for two years without injury, but had been hospitalised four times since moving to EGRP.
“I love the people I work with and I love my job but the staffing shortages, it’s dangerous,” he said.
“Here I’ve been stabbed in the head, punched in the face, kicked, spat on, had my reading glasses smashed and responded to fires.
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“My five-year-old son has seen me come home, covered in blood. I didn’t tell him I held a guy’s arm together or had to do CPR on someone because their face turned blue from hanging themselves.”
Superintendent Hedges confirmed there had been “a number of staff assaults recorded last year, but none led to staff being admitted to hospital”.
He said there would be progress on the incentive packages this month and a further 45 graduate prison officers would start by June to alleviate the staff shortage.
“The department has done all they can do in their power [with housing subsidies] … the rest of the incentive packages is a cross-government issue.”
The union said if staffing shortages were not addressed, some units would be closed at EGRP, placing a strain on the state’s prison system.
It has not ruled out further industrial action.