Officers took action to get a fair wage for working with some of the state’s most dangerous inmates.
CPSU NSW members at Grafton’s Clarence Correctional Centre forced Serco to up its pay offer by walking off the job three times. Members had been forced to take action over their employer’s refusal to pay them at least $30 an hour for working in the private-run prison.
In November 2022, Serco finally upped its offer to meet the CPSU NSW’s demands, including a $1000 sign-on bonus.
“This offer is the result of years of negotiations followed by several months of industrial action,” said CPSU NSW Assistant Secretary Troy Wright. “Without members participating in protected action, Serco never would have tabled the initial offer, let alone another offer with a sign-on bonus included.
“Everybody who participated in the action and was an active union member during this period should be incredibly proud of what you’ve managed to achieve.”
In late September 2022, members gathered at the Truck Drivers Memorial Park for their first action, a 12-hour stoppage.
“For too long, Serco has mistreated and undervalued Officers at Clarence,” said Mr Wright at the time. “Serco made it very clear that they believe the Officers are not worth anything more than $28 per hour, making them the lowest paid Officers in the country.
“This is despite the dangers they face on the job on a daily basis. This comes from a multinational company with an estimated market value in the billions, who are happy to line the pockets of their Corporate Managers and Executives, but think offering an additional 45 cents an hour for Officers is adequate.
“News flash: it isn’t.”
After the action, Serco returned to the negotiating table.
At the meeting, the CPSU NSW once again reiterated union members were not going to accept anything less than $30 per hour. Serco advised that it couldn’t move to $30 and gave varied reasons as to why, including contractual arrangements and affordability.
“Serco was pushed on this point, and finally acknowledged that it wasn’t the case that it can’t afford the pay rise that members asked for but were choosing not to pay it,” said Mr Wright. “Despite this, Serco informed the union that it would talk to people on their end (presumably those in head office) and let the union know whether it can offer more than the pittance that is already on the table.”
After CPSU NSW members rejected a further offer, Officers again walked off in October 2022.
“A huge correctional facility running on the outskirts of town should be a massive bonus for the Grafton business community,” said CPSU NSW Assistant General Secretary Troy Wright. “However, the fact is our members are the country’s lowest paid Correctional Officers.
“We are sure many people in the Grafton business community are unaware that they are missing out on valuable custom while Serco repatriates so much of its profits. Serco is valued at approximately UK£2 billion, or about AU$3.4 billion.
“It made an after-tax profit of more than $40 million in 2021.”
The CPSU NSW has enlisted the local business community to support the Officers. Businesses have been visited and contacted by mail by the union and a local adverstising campaign has been run.
“Our members and the local business community both have a stake in this,” said Mr Wright. “We want a Fair Go from Serco.”
The union also ran a campaign with advertising in the local press, in cinemas and roadside billboards.
The Clarence Correctional Centre is the largest prison in Australia. It was built in rural land outside Grafton after the government-run gaol in town was closed. The old prison had operated since the 19th century.
Since its opening, the Clarence Correctional Centre has been operated by global outsourcing behemoth Serco. Serco also operates immigration detention centres, driver licensing, hospitals, government call centres and even the Ghan train service between Adelaide and Darwin.
Prisons Serco operates in Britain have locked inmates down 24 hours a day to cut back on staffing levels. In addition, it has been associated with overbilling. In 2013, Serco and rival firm G4S were caught systematically overbilling the British government tens of millions of pounds on contracts to tag and monitor criminal offenders.