You are taking us for fools!

THERE is growing discontent among correctional officers over ongoing wage negotiations with the Government, which workers say leaves them feeling short-changed.

The three unions representing correctional officers — Jamaica Federation of Corrections (JAFEDCO), University and Allied Workers’ Union (UAWU) and the Senior Uniformed Officers’ Association (SUOA), met at the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service on September 29, 2022 to continue discussions on correctional officers compensation review 2022.

They, however, left that meeting empty-handed and displeased with the Administration’s proposals. Union representatives do not believe the Government has put forward a suitable offer that can be accepted by correctional officers.

“It should be clearly noted that the Government is not ready to advance a meaningful discussion on behalf of correctional officers at this time. Therefore, the unions again await several critical documents from the [finance ministry], after which these discussions will continue at a later date,” a WhatsApp message from chairman of JAFEDCO Corporal Arlington Turner to correctional officers read.

“As your representative, I say without any fear of contradiction, there is nothing to sign for at this time,” the message read.

A source within the correctional services, who is a member of one of the unions representing correctional officers, told the Jamaica Observer they are upset that under the new compensation review, correctional officers will be uprooted from where they should rightly be — as part of the security grouping which includes the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF).

“What has happened in this negotiation with the realignment that they had proposed, they want to now take correctional officers out of the security grouping, based on the fact that…we would’ve gained the most because we were at the lowest when we were supposed to already be on par with those other groups and they are claiming now that because of [our housing] allowance that we would’ve been getting, then that would’ve taken us out and they want to just put us in the midst of nowhere and correctional officers are very angry about that,” he said.

He said that the proposal is to place correctional officers under the common 16 bands of public sector workers, noting that this “is not adequate for the type of work that we do for our country”.

“The Government is [treating us like] nobody, because if we are to be at a certain space and you’re going to remove us from that space, which would have put us now basically at the lowest end of the scale per se, when we know where we are supposed to be and you also know, it just goes to show that you are taking us for basically fools,” he fumed.

He said that based on what the Government has proposed so far under the review, the salary of the police would almost double that of correctional officers “and we still would not have been on par with them.”

“For correctional officers, when we look at some of the things that they were proposing we would have been okay initially when they had put out their proposal that they would’ve aligned everybody on the same band, but what has happened now, they have taken us out because I’m seeing that we would have most to gain because we were at a high disparity from long ago,” he said.

The source said the correctional officers believe that the Government is trying to roll their regular housing allowance into their salary “as a ploy to get us out of that [security grouping] band because we would’ve had the most to gain in terms of salaries based on the realignment.”

“So what they would’ve done is…use that housing which is an allowance and add it as a part of salary and then put us with those groups [with similar salary] because we would’ve already been outside getting the lowest amount of pay. So when you add the housing and put us in where those persons would’ve been getting salaries to match us with those salaries, by using our allowance, we would’ve still been at a loss because the allowance is not a part of your salary,” he explained.

He further argued that correctional officers fall under the Jamaica Constabulary Force Act because the roles of correctional officers and police intertwine, “yet still they are saying that we are not a part of the security group.”

The source also said the correctional officers are not pleased with seemingly deceptive tactics being employed by the Ministry of Finance during the recent meeting.

“They had brought the figure that they would’ve been getting in year three and proposed it at year one which would’ve basically been looking good but that in its entirety, looking at it that would not be what the correctional officer would be getting because that would’ve been at the end of the term and not the beginning of the term.

“So if I am supposed to be getting $3 at the end, you’re presenting that $3 to me now to say you will be getting $3 but looking at the document, you would only be getting $1 per year, so it is at the end of those other two years now you would’ve been getting the $3. So it’s a lot of tricks and all these things that that persons have to be dealing with,” he said.

He further argued that correctional officers believe they are being sidelined and are not being duly recognised for the role they play in rehabilitating inmates, some of whom are hardened criminals.

“When the police goes out there and he arrests an offender, and that offender goes to court and is convicted and comes to the institution, the correctional officer is now left to deal with all of those social ills that that person would’ve come with and we would also have to be dealing with rehabilitation, trying to prevent that person from reoffending, also to keep that recidivism level at the lowest. So we have to be mothers, fathers, you name it, while at the same time, protecting our very own society from some of these very same individuals from escape and all these things,” he said.

“We have some of the most dangerous offenders in the country behind bars. If one of those persons probably gets back into society before their prescribed time of release, then mayhem can be caused. I don’t think the Government looks at correctional officers in light of the work that we do,” he said.

He argued that correctional officers have to act as counsellors, caregivers, teachers, and medical orderlies to provide interim care in place of a doctor, “but we are not being rewarded fairly for our duties”

He said it is recognised worldwide that correctional officers have a stressful job which sometimes entails working in prison for up to 24 hours.

“Sometimes we have to do double shifts, because the Government is not even recruiting adequate staff to supply the prisons’ needs. So almost every single institution is understaffed. So the ratio of officers to inmates is at a high, high disparity level. So we don’t have the required number of officers so…we are overworked and underpaid,” he said.

Another source, who is a delegate of one of the unions negotiating on behalf of correctional officers, also told the Observer that he is not pleased with the Government’s approach in the negotiations.

He said correctional officers are of the view that people, including at the Ministry of Finance, “feel like a watchman work we doing…we just fly up inmates and lock them down and that is all a correctional officers does. That is not [all we do],” he insisted.

“At the end of the day we are not being properly compensated in regards to how other security groups — the police and soldiers — are treated. Our salary is pittance to what [police and soldiers get] and it’s not about comparing the jobs because I know the role of police and soldier but the work that we do is important and significant…but because police and soldier are always outside in the society and we are behind the walls, people wouldn’t understand what goes on behind the walls,” he said.

“It’s a small community; it’s a microcosm of society. A lot takes place there and if we don’t do our best, society would be worst off. Because the same persons when they leave, they have to come back in the society and it’s the role that we play to change them,” he said.

“I am not saying the Government has money to pay us and we nah ask fi the best, we just want to be treated [fairly] for the work that we do; that is all we are asking,” he insisted.

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