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Tuesday 6 December 2016

Sick day figures used by striking Oberstown staff 'incorrect' - boss

Staff on the picket line at Oberstown young offenders centre (Picture: Mark Condren)
Staff on the picket line at Oberstown young offenders centre (Picture: Mark Condren)

The director of the Oberstown young offenders centre has slammed claims that assaults on staff resulted in 3,000 sick days last year as "not realistic".

Striking staff at the north County Dublin facility said these sick days were taken as a result of 65 attacks on staff last year.

Workers at the secure education and accommodation unit outside Lusk, yesterday held their first in a series of planned four-hour work stoppages. They are protesting at what they say are dangerous working conditions that leave them exposed to violence.

Trade unions Impact and Siptu said more than 100 violent incidents took place there last year - almost half of which were classed as critical.

Confront

"The figures last year show 3,000 days lost through assaults on 65 members of staff, and the early part of this year was showing no improvement here, despite the best efforts of both unions to confront management about a safer place to work," said Tom Hoare of Impact.

But as a meeting at the Work Relations Commission was scheduled for this morning, Oberstown campus director Pat Bergin disputed the figures - which equate to 46 days in sick leave per attack.

"Those figures are totally incorrect. They are not realistic as they include days a staff member would not have worked anyway, because nobody works seven days out of seven, and they also include people on long-term sick leave," he said.

"We have actually reduced staff sick leave from 15pc to 7pc in the last nine months. A significant amount of injuries previously related to methods used in restraining people up until last November, which have now been changed," he said.

"Physical restraints have now decreased by two-thirds and the number of injuries has also dropped in line with that," he added.

"We are also using our buildings to manage scenarios too, so if a person is being disruptive or violent we can isolate them in a room away from people.

"Rooms have been damaged as a result, but I would rather replace a window than have a staff member hurt," Mr Bergin said.

Unions representing workers said they are not prepared to work in a dangerous environment any longer.

"We are not prepared to provide people for fodder in a system that's not working and that's causing staff serious injury," said Mr Hoare.

"We will be in the workplace commission later today and we will see if any avenue to address the issues is found," he added.

Oberstown provides education and accommodation for 48 young offenders aged between 10 and 17 years.

Children and Youth Affairs Minister Dr Katherine Zappone expressed regret at the strike.

"I welcome the fact that staff reps have agreed to engage with Oberstown management at the Workplace Relations Commission. But, I am concerned at the interruption that will result in the normal routines of children," she added.

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