Tasmania’s beleaguered correctional officers are increasingly taking personal leave, with official Justice Department figures showing a 20 per cent spike in the amount taken over the last two financial years.
Based on 12-hour shifts, the most common type of shift correctional officers work, the total number of days of personal leave (including sick leave and carer’s leave) taken in 2019-20 was 2722.
This was a 20.9 per cent increase on the 2250 days recorded in 2017-18 and a 13.6 per cent increase on the 2018-19 figures.
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Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Prison Service currently has 22 staff totally incapacitated on either extended workers’ compensation or extended sick leave.
The figures were disclosed in Tasmania’s Legislative Council on Wednesday, following questioning from independent Windermere MLC Ivan Dean.
Reading from a statement, Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council Leonie Hiscutt said the TPS had in place “adaptive rostering practices” and “absence management strategies” to deal with rising levels of overtime and personal leave.
“Historically, TPS overtime is primarily driven by additional correctional shifts, arising from increased prisoner numbers, including constant observations, escorts and hospital escorts [and] staff absences primarily due to sick leave or workers’ compensation, in addition to vacant positions,” she said.
Mrs Hiscutt said the prison service’s risk management response to the COVID-19 pandemic had led to increased overtime but normal rosters had now been restored which would reduce overtime costs. She noted that additional correctional staff were being recruited.
It was revealed earlier this month that the TPS had spent more than $8 million on overtime in 2019-20 – a 12 per cent jump on the previous year’s overtime expenditure. The average overtime paid per correctional officer was a staggering $21,738.
Mr Dean said he was “astounded” by the overtime and personal leave figures, while Opposition corrections spokeswoman Ella Haddad said they were “extremely concerning” but not surprising.
“Labor has heard from correctional officers about serious issues around prisoner overcrowding, dangerous work conditions, including assaults, and a lack of training,” she said.
“These issues are plaguing an already struggling system, and the government is clearly failing correctional officers who are already doing a tough job.
“It is clear recruitment of extra staff is not even keeping up with the numbers leaving through stress, workers’ compensation and retirement.”
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