The Workplace Relations Commission will this morning seek a resolution to the dispute over health and safety at the Oberstown Children Detention Campus which yesterday saw occupants locked in their rooms for four hours due to a staff work-to-rule.

According to campus management, the residents were locked in their rooms from 8am to 12pm, could not go to school, and could only be given breakfast when some staff agreed to break with the industrial action.

Impact and Siptu say the stoppage, due to be repeated each Tuesday in June, is against a background of a “high and growing” number of attacks on staff since thecentre expanded to facilitate the transfer of offenders from the prison service.

They say the 48 under-18- year-old residents include a mix of vulnerable young offenders and “violent criminals with multiple convictions for serious offences”.

They have claimed the most recent official figures reveal more than 100 violent incidents in Oberstown last year, almost half of which were classed as ‘critical’.

“Critical assaults and injuries necessitated a total of 3,005 employee sick days, involving 65 staff members,” they said.

The unions claim:

  • Expansion and refurbishment of the complex was badly planned and implemented, resulting in an unsafe living and working environment;
  • Subsequent stop-gap measures, supposed to minimise risk to staff and residents, have been both inadequate and ineffective;
  • Staff are denied appropriate personal protection and safety equipment;
  • Staff recruitment and retention problems, coupled with absences due to assaults, mean the facility is often understaffed and, therefore, incapable of dealing safely with the numbers of offenders.

However, campus manager Pat Bergin insists the measures sought by the unions would be a retrograde step as it would turn the facility into another prison environment. He said violent incidents had reduced by two thirds since last October — in that month he said there were 24 incidents compared to eight in May.

Mr Bergin also said that, on CCTV review of incidents, the approach taken by staff in a number of cases was not in line with the policy.

He said groups of staff would aggressively restrain the person and put them into their room. He said the policy which should have been adopted was that the MAPA (Management of Actual and Potential Aggression) approach — which involves trying to engage with the person and de-escalating the situation. He said physical restraint should be the last option. He claimed a number of staff injuries were down to them hitting off radiators or doors while restraining the resident en masse.


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