Serco damages worker’s lives but government wants more privatised staff

Two stories today that highlight the pernicious effect of British multinational Serco in Australia.

One from today’s Australian (to its credit, the only serious newspaper tackling this question regularly):

The company running Australia’s immigration detention centres has acknowledged the work is traumatic for staff following the death of a young guard troubled by the hanging of a teenage asylum-seeker.

Kieran Webb died while holidaying with his family last Wednesday after working for six months as a security officer at the Curtin immigration detention centre in Western Australia’s far north, according to a memo to all staff from government contractor Serco last Friday.

There were no suspicious circumstances, Serco Immigration Services managing director Chris Manning wrote in the memo.

“If you feel the need for emotional support arising from the work you do, please consider speaking to someone,” he said.

“It is important we acknowledge that our line of work can at times place us in difficult and traumatic situations as we manage vulnerable people in our care.”
Five detainees have killed themselves in immigration detention centres since last September. Self-harm and threats of self-harm occur daily, and a psychologist is employed full-time by Serco to help guards deal with the fallout of acts such as lip-sewing, slashing and attempted hangings.

The Australian has been told detainees are taking increasingly dramatic steps to draw attention to their grievances. On Christmas Island last Thursday, a detainee sewed his lips together and had a friend tie him to the compound fence in a crucifix position.

On March 28, Mr Webb was among guards who cut down a 19-year-old Afghan detainee who hanged himself in his room.

Mr Webb was deeply affected by the death and by the unrest that followed, according to guards who worked alongside him at the time.

Two from United Voice, a union that represents workers:

A month after Villawood Detention Centre was burned to the ground, Serco was pushing to reduce staffing on key shifts.

The company wants to cut numbers on some shifts by as much as 50 percent.

United Voice members say the move would wreck their family lives, and reduce their ability to build relationships with detainees that could head off future trouble.

More than 120 Villawood members responded to a Union survey, panning proposed changes as family unfriendly, impractical and a health and safety risk.

Officers, predominantly working 12-hour shifts, currently get seven days off every 21 days. Under the revamp, they would have to wait 35 or 42 days for their long breaks.

United Voice assistant secretary, Peter Campise, says extending the qualifying period would be a blow to morale.

“Anything that hurts morale at the centre is a problem for our members and the whole immigration detention regime,” he said.

“United Voice rejects any changes that expose our members to increased risk.”

Meanwhile, Villawood officers are buoyed by Serco’s retreat from attempts to slash overtime rates for people required to work more than 14 hours.

Serco reduced double time payments to time and a half early in the New Year but agreed to “revert to the previous interpretation of the clause” after it became apparent member would pursue the issue..

Peter says securing back pay is now the issue.

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