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New prison plan to create thousands of jobs

Massive restructuring in South African prisons will result in the abolition of weekend overtime for warders, and the creation of 8 311 new jobs, Minister of Correctional Services Ngconde Balfour said on Wednesday.

Starting on April 1, the department will be phasing in a seven-day working week, which will save millions of rands in overtime payouts each year.

This money will be used to employ thousands more warders, in an effort to improve the safety conditions of officers and inmates in the country’s prisons, said Balfour at a press briefing north of Johannesburg.

Balfour said he and his staff have been in consultation with unions, and the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has agreed to the changes in principle.

At present, average warders earn an extra R22 000 a year on top of their salaries in overtime pay. They are likely to loose a quarter of this under the new system, the department said.

Popcru secretary general Pat Nsobi said his members agreed ”in principle” to the phasing in of a seven-day working week.

However, he said the department will have to ”at least double” the number of staff in the prisons if the system is to work safely and efficiently.

Popcru also expects that warders be compensated for the loss in overtime hours they will incur, Nsobi said.

”We need to adjust the salaries of warders. You can’ t just take away the overtime of people who have been earning it since 1978.”

However, Balfour was firm on Wednesday that overtime money is not a right.

”It is overtime money. Rightfully, it does not belong to them. Correctional services has been losing about R1-billion a year in overtime payouts. We cannot sustain this type of thing,” the minister said.

The two parties will meet at a bargaining council on Thursday, Nsobi said. He is expecting the department to be open to debate on the matter.

Balfour was speaking at a conference on the department’s White Paper on Correctional Services, which outlines a strategy for transforming the prison system into one that focuses on rehabilitation and correction.

The paper, which was approved by the Cabinet in February, opens the door to many new interventions and approaches, chief director of corporate services Vernie Petersen explained.

This includes retraining staff on the principals of rehabilitation, as well as development and community programmes within and outside prisons, he said.

He said staff restructuring is essential for the implementation of many of these changes.

By the end of the year, 3 000 new officials will have been trained, and in three years’ time the department hopes to have improved the ratio of warders to inmates to 1:6, from 1:8. — Sapa

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