A week after the children’s detention campus erupted into chaos during a strike by staff, unions and management at Oberstown are to meet again on Monday to try and resolve the long-running dispute over health and safety.
The talks at the Workplace Relations Commission mean a further strike planned for Monday has been suspended.
As long as the talks remain in the WRC, and despite no resolution, there will be no strikes.
However, if the talks break down without agreement, the staff unions Impact and Siptu could advise their members to return to the picket line.
The gulf of opinion on health and safety between management and staff had closed considerably before the events of last Monday ‘s industrial action.
According to Pat Bergin, campus director, an agreement was reached between the two sides on August 21 on a framework to address the health and safety issues.
However, a stumbling block then emerged.
After another meeting between staff representatives and management on August 22, the unions were unhappy about a plan to separate young people on remand and young people on committal.
While they had specific health and safety concerns over that proposal, management said it had measures in place to address those concerns.
In fact, Mr Bergin said it was a “positive and successful development” which would “support the stabilisation of the operations of the campus further”.
Management pressed ahead with the relocation of the remand unit which led to last Monday’s action proceeding.
It was supposed to be an eight-hour stoppage during which residents would be closed in their rooms and throughout which full emergency cover would remain in place.
However, the young people were not happy about being confined to their rooms. It subsequently emerged a number of detainees took control of a residential unit that afternoon when a set of keys had been taken from a staff member.
The youths made their way to the roof where a fire broke out around 8pm.
Impact trade union, in a letter this week to the Children’s Rights Alliance, said that when the incident occurred about 12 staff voluntarily left the picket line and immediately offered their assistance.
“This meant that there were more staff on-site responding to an incident than there would be in the course of a normal working day.” the union pointed out.
It is anticipated when the two sides meet at the Workplace Relations Commission at 11am on Monday, the separation of the remand and committal residents will be the main topic on the agenda.
However, this week’s violent scenes, during which one staff member was injured, will be seen as underscoring the health and safety concerns which staff and their unions have been raising for a number of months.
The unions have argued the campus is badly designed and understaffed, with inadequate safety equipment and procedures to deal with a mix of vulnerable young people and violent offenders. They say the result is that staff and detainees face a daily risk of serious assault.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved