Prison officers ‘dumbfounded’ over sick leave questions
PRISON officers taking "excessive" amounts of sick leave are being questioned by superiors and put on shift restrictions, infuriating staff who say they cannot fathom why when the premier and Chief Health Officer have told people to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic if they don't feel well.
The Courier-Mail can reveal the meetings have taken place in the past few weeks with prison officer union Together estimating up to hundreds of staff have been impacted.
It comes amid unrest at the state's jails after many were locked down as a precaution to stop the spread of the virus.
Together Union secretary Alex Scott said the union was "dumbfounded" over the decision.
"At the current time to reinstitute meetings questioning people as to why they are using sick leave, to simply try to manage the budget, makes no sense whatsoever," he said.
"It could result in putting the community at risk.
"Right now when the message is going out from the premier, the deputy premier and the chief medical officer - to stay home if you have the slightest symptoms and tested - we should be seeing people using more sick leave than ever before and if we're not then we're actually seeing people being put at risk."
Staff said in the meetings officers were asked reasons for their excessive sick leave and were told they would have restrictions, such as banning overtime or not allowing them to swap shifts, until they brought their sick leave down.
Queensland Corrective Services was asked how many staff were impacted and if the move was because the budget was blown, however the issues were not specifically addressed.
"The public has every right to expect that QCS manages its budget - and its workforce - carefully and diligently," a spokesman said.
"This includes identifying and engaging with officers who have a history of unexpected absenteeism to ensure they are receiving the support they need.
"If an officer is taking a high level of sick leave, or undertaking an excessive amount of overtime, there may be safety concerns for that officer or their colleagues."
Staff work 12 hour shifts and the spokesman said fatigue management was a "real concern when officers are working excessive hours".
"This has been a focus for us since we became a stand alone department in 2017, and has absolutely no connection to the present pandemic," the spokesman said.
"We have repeatedly reinforced the message to our officers not to attend work if they are unwell, and to seek testing if they have cold or flu symptoms."
Mr Scott said there should be a wider discussion about sick leave and what it's used for.
"In the past sick leave was applied in the 'soldier on' mentality where you came to work unless you were absolutely unable to," he said.
"The pandemic has shown us that we need to completely look at sick leave in a different light.
"And sick leave is also about keeping other people safe in the workplace."
Originally published as Prison officers 'dumbfounded' over sick leave questions