Fórsa is preparing for the possibility of industrial action at the Oberstown youth detention centre following the placement of a young female detainee into a new mixed-gender unit.
The union’s Irish Youth Justice branch has expressed grave concerns over the establishment of a mixed-gender-unit at Oberstown, and cites the incident as further evidence that management at Oberstown is failing to engage or consult with the union on operational matters.
Fórsa official Seán McElhinney explained: “The union was not consulted on the policy and we are now conducting an indicative ballot of members at the Oberstown campus. The early indications are that members are ready to take industrial action if a satisfactory agreement with management cannot be reached.”
Mr McElhinney said experienced youth detention staff at Oberstown have highlighted that mixed gender units are a very real threat to the health and safety of the young people in their care, in addition to posing unacceptable health and safety risks to staff.
The time has come to overhaul industrial relations at Oberstown and put an end to the cycle of disputes, and create a more stable industrial relations atmosphere.
A continuing survey of staff by the union shows that union members at Oberstown are almost unanimous in their view that mixed gender units compromise the health and safety, as well as the mental health, of the young people in residence at the campus. Mr McElhinney added: “Most members report that the behaviour challenges are different in mixed gender units compared to single gender units.”
Further concerns have also been raised about the relationship between staff and management at Oberstown, with Fórsa members expressing the view that management does not listen to staff working in the various units on the campus, with many of the view that management does not prioritise the health and safety of staff.
Mr McElhinney added: “The time has come to overhaul industrial relations at Oberstown and put an end to the cycle of disputes, and create a more stable industrial relations atmosphere. This can only be achieved by a solid demonstration from management that they are prepared to take this approach. There is a marked absence of trust, and we need to rebuild that.
“We’ll be calling on management to agree to long-term arrangements, for consultation and negotiation, which will facilitate the resolution of this dispute and establish more stable industrial relations for the future,” he said.
Mr McElhinney said Fórsa will be engaging with management at Oberstown in the coming days.
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Seán McElhinney speaks to Clem Ryan on Kildare Today on KFM about the dispute in Oberstown (from 23:00)