POPCRU on the state of unabsorbed DCS learners

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) is overly concerned over the delayed absorption of over 2000 Department of Correctional Centre (DCS) learners who continue to remain idle and isolated after having competently concluded their learnership training programs.

We have since October 2020 learned of the looming rumours around the non-renewal of their contracts, and since made numerous efforts in ensuring their isolation does not find expression, including meeting with the DCS management over a 5-day engagement session which took place from the 14th to the 19th of December 2020, wherein we sharply raised concerns that it cannot, for the first time be justified that while faced with challenges related to the high number of staff shortages and high levels of overcrowding within centres, which among others makes it difficult for the department to have a lawful shift pattern, then a process learners’ contracts are cancelled.

Shift patterns within the DCS are dependent on warm bodies, and the shrinking post-establishment for which a work study was done back in 2003, which was concluded as part of the Occupation Specific Development (OSD) agreement in 2009, demonstrated that it was quite clear that the DCS needed to employ at least 18 000 more people in order to meet its necessary mandate.

Despite the DCS management having given us assurances, this frustration continues to persist.

As a matter of historical fact, before signing the Occupation Specific Development (OSD) agreement in 2009, the department was appointing new recruits as student correctional officials to undergo basic training for six months and probation for another six months. Upon completion of both the basic training and probation, they would be absorbed as permanent correctional officials.

This form of training was not in line with the Skills and Development Act, and as the result, a Learnership as basic training for student’s correctional officials was introduced and registered with the Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority (SASSETA). 

The GPSSBC Resolution 2 of 2009 then introduced a new form of basic training for recruits, and these new recruits are now appointed as learners for a period of twelve months. They have since been absorbed after every completion of this basic training, in a learnership form, to become permanent and fully fledged correctional officials.

In line with the GPSSBC resolution 2 of 2009, clause 3 (10) categorically states the objective as being the appointment of recruits as learners.

Clause 12 (1) further states that all learners at entry level in production who are required to undergo basic training shall be appointed in terms of a Learnership employment contract as envisaged by Section 18 (2) of the Skills and Development Act for the duration of the Learnership. The conditions of service and remuneration will be determined in accordance with the Sectoral Determination for Learnership made by the Minister of labour in terms of Section 55(1) read with Section 18 (4) of the Skills Development Act, with effect from 2009.

Clause 12 (3) further emphasises that organisational rights agreement of the DCS will be applicable to learners.

Since then, the number has not increased, and at the time of signing this agreement, the DCS had a staff complement of 42 000 employees.  The post-establishment is now standing at 38 729, with 32 034 of those are based at centres, providing security, while about 1400 are at the head office, with regions accounting for 6000 people.

These figures essentially demonstrate that at the current number the post-establishment is purported to be, there has been a definite decline due to the fact that not everyone is centre-based, and many are being affected by the current pandemic; either being ill or on leave, and extending the long-standing burden the department continues to suffer.

Further, the DCS has been losing members of a yearly basis, this due to terminations (death, sickness, dismissals, retrenchments).

The purpose of recruitment, through learnership programs, is therefore designed specifically for this filling of vacancies, and there isn’t any other platforms.

The DCS recruits learners through the SASSETA in the form of learnership programs, which is in terms of section 18 (2) of the Skills Development Act, which states that “If the learner was not in the employment of the employer party to the learnership agreement concerned when the agreement was concluded, the employer and learner must enter into a contract of employment.”

As a department in the security sector, the DCS would be placing the country under a security threat by denying the absorption of these learners. Firstly, their much needed skills will not be utilised in the improvement of the department, secondly, the higher the unemployment rate, the higher crime rates will go up.

We do not support the establishment of vigilantism, and the DCS cannot simply train people on the use of firearms, expose them to the inner security issues within the department, and ultimately dispose of them in the manner they are doing.

In his foreword in the DCS’s Annual report, Minister Lamola notes the following;

Overcrowding in correctional facilities is a multidimensional issue. The causes of overcrowding are not confined to the limits of criminal justice, but extend to other spheres of State responsibility, such as social welfare policies, access to health services, education and employment, among others. The increase in offender population continues to present unavoidable challenges of overcrowding in correctional facilities. The inmate population for 2019/20 was recorded at 154 449 against the approved bed-space total of 120 567.

Security is a fundamental activity within correctional facilities as it protects the public from further criminal acts; contributes to giving the public confidence in the rule of law and the criminal justice system; and enables offenders to benefit from rehabilitation activities provided within the corrections system. The consequences of an unsafe correctional facility can be severe. Security refers not only to the means by which escapes are prevented but also to measures that are necessary to stop high-risk offenders from directing criminal activity taking place outside the correctional facilities.

From the above, we can deduce that there are those within the DCS who are hell-bent on deviating from addressing the stated challenges, which require the necessary training as attained through the learnership process, but would rather see more unskilled and untrained people occupying these critical positions, all under the guise that a contract obliges such.

It should be noted that the General Public Service Sector Bargaining Council (GPSSBC) has the locus standi: the right or capacity to bring an action or to appear in a court to hear the disputes relating to these issues, and we are of the view that the department cannot limit discretionary to appoint or not to appoint the learners into employment upon conclusion, and that the issue of contracts is an anomaly.

POPCRU is a signatory to a resolution that brought about the issue of learnership into play.

It cannot therefore be discretionary at the point of saying you have to give full employment, and yet claim that the contract says something else. The collective agreement has got a more binding effect on the union and the department, more so more than the contracts give to these learners. Moreover, in terms of the OSD agreement, these learners enjoy organisational rights as they are enrolled in terms of section 18(2) of the Skills Development Act, and in that they do not enjoy organisational rights anywhere except in correctional services because this is an enrolment measure recruits, not for any other purpose. It is therefore a legitimate expectation for employment.

Our concern is about the filling of posts, especially during this period wherein there are serious shortages in the DCS, and in that there is no other measure in the DCS for the appointments at entry level.

The whole confusion started back in 2009 with the agreement, wherein we introduced the learnership. This learnership was a basic training in the form of a learnership, with an understanding that the qualification will be registered because before then, the training process was not registered with the Department of Higher Education (DHE).

The aim of the parties to the agreement was to make this learnership to be a basic training tool for potential candidates to be appointed permanently, and the understanding was very clear that any person who is going to be a full correctional official would fall under the learnership, hence they enjoy organisational rights.

This learnership was not aimed at creating a pool of unemployed workers, but as a measure of recruiting new employees to the DCS.

We are deeply concerned that most of these learners had been told to resign from their previous workplaces when being included in the learnership, and are now told they cannot be absorbed. The mere act of telling them to resign before entering the learnership is a legitimate expectation for employment.

They are now made to stay at home, and are being evicted from their initial living quarters while the DCS continues to hire reserve SANDF members into the department, whereas they have not been through the intensive training that these isolated learners have underwent in gaining the necessary skills to carry the primary work of rehabilitation forward.

As a union, we do not take issue with the reservists from the SANDF, but we do, however, take issue with the manner in which they were appointed, the processes that were followed and as to how decisions to isolate trained learners came about.

It is for this purpose that we demand a vetting process of all appointments, as there are also claims that about 40% of these appointments are not ex-military personnel, while others are alleged to have criminal records.

POPCRU remains committed to speedily resolving this matter through the only option, which is to result in the absorption of all trained and competent learners.

Engagements with the relevant stakeholders are underway, and any new update will be communicated.

Issued by POPCRU on 14/04/2021

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