Nationwide crisis looms as Corrections staff consider strike action

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Sep 17, 2023 |

Corrections staff across New Zealand’s prisons are proposing to strike in an unprecedented move.

The strike notices were issued to the Department of Corrections Chief Executive Jeremy Lightfoot in a letter by the Corrections Association of New Zealand.

If mediation fails, strike action will start at 8AM on the 27th of September and end at 6PM on the 30th November, or until withdrawal of the notice the letter said.

Workers will not use the Integrated Offender Management System other than to load incident reports and misconducts from 0800 27 September to 1800 30 November 2024 (continuous until notice withdrawn).

They will not respond to department emails or agree to call backs and overtime from 0600 29 September to 0800 2 October 2023, and staff will stop working for six hours from 1200 (midday) Thursday 6 October.

 An employee at Christchurch Men’s Prison, whose identity Chris Lynch Media has chosen to protect, expressed, “I am deeply committed to and passionate about my work. However, the increasing challenges, including being short of 20 staff members, make our daily operations an uphill task.

“There’s an overwhelming pressure to ensure safety, leaving many of us exhausted and feeling under-compensated.

“It often feels like the government overlooks our struggles. We’ve seen little to no support from our Corrections Minister, Kelvin Davis. All we’re advocating for is a wage increase that at least matches inflation,” he shared.

“With the significant understaffing, many of us are compelled to clock in extra hours just to ensure our colleagues aren’t at risk of being attacked.

“The spike in assaults is alarming, and we face escalating verbal and physical abuse. This shortage not only impedes prisoners’ ability to engage in activities or communicate with their loved ones but also places a strain on the existing staff.

“Our plea is straightforward: a fair wage increase. This isn’t just for us; it’s to ensure we can effectively manage the facility, hire and retain the required workforce.”

Furthermore, the employee pointed out concerns beyond Christchurch: “Auckland prisons are grappling with severe issues, but it seems the government is choosing to look the other way.

“We are the forgotten Service. We are the ones to help keep New Zealand safe, but our job is harder than it’s ever has been.

“I am a single parent and I struggle to pay my mortgage and put food on the table, even to have energy as I’m doing overtime to keep up with bills it needs to stop.

“We have staff going to Australia to do the same job but are getting m paid 30k more.

A Corrections Association spokesperson said “we are in the midst of mediation, so until that reaches a point we are refraining from further comment at this time.”

Corrections People and Capabiliy Deputy Chief Executive Richard Waggott said “we are continuing discussions with both unions, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment further on the process or outcomes at this time.

“Public safety is our top priority, and we always have extensive business continuity plans in place across the country. This ensures we can continue to operate safely in a range of different situations, including industrial action, which we have been actively preparing for.

“Our staff do a challenging job working with some of the most vulnerable and complex people in New Zealand, and it takes a particular kind of person with specialist skills to do this job well. We value our staff for the hard work they do on a daily basis, and their contribution to keeping prisons, the public and our communities safe. 

“Like many other organisations and businesses around the country, we have been facing on-going challenges related to our staffing levels. We fully acknowledge the pressure this has placed on staff working in prisons, which is why we have been making a concerted effort to recruit, retain and train.”

This includes launching a new recruitment campaign, strengthening our recruitment processes, improving our onboarding processes, implementing new rosters which provide our staff with better work/life balance and help them to avoid fatigue, and continuously working to improve staff safety. Our staff have also been carrying out recruitment activities in their local communities (for example, information evenings for people interested in working with us” Waggott said.

“There has been an increase in the number of job applications received for new Corrections Officers, with more than 5,800 applications received since October 2022. We have also recruited 540 people into frontline roles, with many more in the recruitment pipeline.”

If the strike goes ahead, it will affect Northland Region Corrections Facility, Auckland Prison, Mt Eden Corrections Facility, Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility, Spring Hill Corrections Facility, Waikeria Prison, Tongariro Prison, Whanganui Prison (including the New Plymouth Remand Centre), Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison, Manawutu Prison, Rimutaka Prison, Arohata Prison, Christchurch Men’s Prison, Christchurch Women’s Prison, Rolleston Prison, Otago Corrections Facility and lnvercargill Prison.

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

Have you got a news tip? Get in touch here

got a news tip?