Prison Officers face discrimination over absence warnings - Beattie

The Ulster Unionist Party’s Justice Spokesperson, Doug Beattie MC MLA, said:

“It is now absolutely clear that there is an issue within the Department for Justice (DoJ) in respect to workforce management. The Northern Ireland Civil Service Human Resource (NICSHR) – an arm of the Department of Finance – seem to be targeting the Northern Ireland Prison Service (NIPS) as part of their Inefficiency Absence policy.

“Of the 345 written warnings handed out to civil servants within the DoJ over the last 3 years a total of 205 were given to the NIPS. That is a staggering figure which means that over 60% of written warnings are issued to the Prison Service although they only makes up a third of all those who work for DoJ.

“This is a pattern of internal discrimination that cannot be ignored by the Justice Minister, who should be supporting her workforce, or the Finance Minister who should be ensuring policies are delivered in a fair and justified manner.

“Recently I raised the case of a Prison Officer who had been given a written warning even though he had been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A diagnosis accepted by the NIPS and NICSHR with an acknowledgment that he did all he could to return to work as early as possible. That warning went to an appeal, was overturned and rightly so.

“However, since then I have received numerous emails and telephone calls from serving and former Prison Officers who also received a written warning for being off work due to a mental health illness, ranging from stress to PTSD. Once female officer was actually told she would be discharged if she did not return to work.

“This is appalling treatment of those with a mental health illness within our Prison Service. These are individuals who do an incredibly stressful and dangerous role in order to keep us safe. They do this with little recognition but the effects on them and their families are immense and must be taken into account.

“It is clear to me, if not to those who make and implement policy, that Prison Officers are being forced to continue to work even when suffering mental health issues for fear of disciplinary action. This cannot continue and it is time for an independent look at mental health within the prison service with a view to understanding it better and removing the threat of disciplinary action if someone is suffering a mental health illness and needs to take time off.”

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