Union calls for MPs not to vote for Prison Officers Bill

The WA Prison Officers’ Union has called on Lower House MP’s not to vote for the Prison Officers Discipline Bill, which is set to be debated in parliament this week.

The Custodial Legislation (Officers Discipline) Amendment Bill 2013 includes removing an officer’s right to silence and enabling the Corrective Services Commissioner to sack officers if he loses confidence in them.

WA Prison Officers’ Secretary John Welch said the changes were an attack on prison officers’ rights and would effectively make them guilty until proven innocent.

He said the Bill was an overreaction by the Minister Joe Francis to what he alleged was a “disturbing culture” among prison officers.

“There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that there is a culture of bad behaviour among prison officers which requires this kind of crackdown,” said Mr Welch.

The Department’s figures show that in 2012/13 of the more than 2,000 public sector prison officers in WA, only 20 were found guilty of a breach of regulations or resigned while under investigation.

“This represents just one per cent of the total number of officers in this State,” he said. “That’s hardly what could be described as a disturbing culture.”

Mr Welch said over the last three years, many of the officers found guilty had committed minor breaches such as misusing social media, swearing or running late for work.

Mr Welch said the Union had long argued for reform, but the bill in its current form was fatally flawed.

“If this Bill were to be passed without major amendments, it would result in prisoners having more rights than prison officers,” he said.

Mr Welch said if MP’s weren’t willing to vote against the Bill, it should at least be amended to make it fairer.

“It must be made clear in this legislation that the Loss of Confidence provision is only for the most extreme of cases,” he said.

“The legislation should also allow prison officers to maintain the right to silence, have the right to be represented by their union in any disciplinary procedure and allow officers to directly challenge evidence presented by prisoners in a hearing.”

Mr Welch said the new laws were part of a campaign to smear prison officers and justify the Barnett Government’s privatisation plans for prisons.