Support staff at Ashley Youth Detention Centre are doing excessive overtime, working alone in unit blocks and skipping breaks due to low staff numbers their union says is the result of cost saving delays in recruitment.
The Health and Community Services Union says a minimum staffing agreement of eight youth workers and one operations coordinator for each shift has been continuously breached and an improvement notice issued by health and safety representatives disputed by the department.
In April, there were 27 instances of youth workers alone in a unit, according to the union. A number of instances in March saw only one youth worker on site for each of the four units after 8pm. That month, 54 double shifts were worked.
HACSU assistant state secretary Robbie Moore said the situation was putting young people and workers in a "high risk" situation.
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"They know the risk that they're putting workers and young people at because of incidents that have occurred in the past. And for them to be doing this is - I can't see how this can be happening. We need to see urgent action."
The union estimates there is a current gap of about 8 full-time equivalent staff. At this level, each youth worker would need to complete at least 10 hours overtime - without allowances for sick days or unplanned annual leave - to meet the minimum staffing agreement.
Due to the pressure on youth workers and other operational staff, the health and safety representatives issued a Provisional Improvement Notice under the Workplace Health and Safety Act on June 17. On June 26, Communities Tasmania advised they would dispute the notice, Mr Moore said.
Some vacancies were advertised more than eight weeks ago, with interviews only taking place last week due to a number of "avoidable" delays.
A Department of Communities spokesperson said the centre is committed to maintaining a safe workplace and would work with staff to resolve concerns.
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"[The centre] has considered the matters raised by their Health and Safety Representatives in the Provisional Improvement Notice (PIN) and is working with WorkSafe to review the notification," they said.
"Some of the matters raised are already being actively addressed, including commencing a recruitment process for new staff."
A Justice Department spokesperson said WorkSafe was considering requests to appoint an inspector to review the improvement notice and the matter would be dealt with "as soon as practicable" in line with the Work Health and Safety Act.
The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures showed 58 young people were held at the centre last financial year, at an average of 12 each day.
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