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Ultimatum for striking prison guards


7446Keiso Mohloboli

Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) staff who embarked on a go-slow last December to protest government’s failure to increase their salaries, were given 48 hours on Friday  to either end the protest or face legal action.

The staff, who are from the lowest grades of sergeant and correctional officer, began the industrial action on 12 December 2014, crippling operations at most of the country’s prisons.

As part of the industrial action, the warders have not been escorting inmates to court for hearings, admitting new prisoners and allowing those incarcerated any visitors.

However, the government has decided to end the stalemate by giving the guards a two-day ultimatum to either return to full duty or be ultimately fired.

The Sunday Express yesterday established that the guards were handed letters of the ultimatum which were signed by their respective officers-in-charge.

The letters, headlined ‘Ultimatum regarding your involvement in the on-going industrial action’ read: “It has come to my attention that despite all verbal and written calls instructing you to resume your normal duties, you have not shown any compliance to resume normal duties and or facilitate smooth and normal operations of your institution. Instead, you have continued to abandon some or all of your official duties.

“This leaves me with no option but to consider you to have knowingly, unlawfully and intentionally embarked on an illegal course of action.

“Once again, I instruct you to refrain from any action that disrupts the normal operations and smooth-functioning of the institution. Further, with the authority vested in me as officer-in-charge, I command you to immediately report yourself at work ready to resume your normal duties as a correctional officer and to further facilitate the smooth and secure operations of the institution.

“The duties that you have to carry out include court-escorts, facilitate inmates’ visits and receive admissions from court. Take note that your failure to abide by this command within 48 hours from receipt of this instruction will leave us with no option but to interdict you from office work and the circumstances of non-performance of your duties which, on your part have prevailed since 12 December 2014. The interdiction will be accompanied with no pay.

“You are at liberty to comment on the aspect of interdiction accompanied by no pay but again, you are assumed that in the event you continue with your unacceptable conduct, failure to comply within 48 hours the interdict will be effected as aforesaid.

“You are further instructed to sign a pledge as an undertaking that you have resumed all official duties”.

Lesotho Correctional Service Staff Association Acting Chairman, Lebonajoang Ramohalali, yesterday confirmed receipt of the letters but said not every protesting officer had agreed to take them.

“It’s true the letters were sent to all LCS stations except Leribe because the officers there are not part of the go-slow,” Chief Officer Ramohalali said.

“It’s surprising to hear that the authorities are saying we are not reporting for work, when we have been coming all the time but with limited output. Again, allegations that inmates are dying and that they are no longer going for their medical check-ups are also lies. But we are not going to stop the go-slow until our salaries have been adjusted and our ranks are normalised.”

Mr Ramohalali also said allegations that warders would release prisoners if they are not given the money were also not true.

“We are professionals and know our boundaries. It will be unethical for us to release prisoners while we took an oath on our graduation at Correctional Training College.

“We will have other options to protest if our issue is not attended to,” Mr Ramohalali also said.

Contacted for comment yesterday, Justice and Correctional Service ministry  Principal Secretary, Teboho Mohlomi confirmed the ultimatum, adding there was no provision for a go-slow in the Public Service Act.

According to Mr Mohlomi, the go-slow was unlawful.

“LCS officers are ignoring the contracts they signed with their employer. If they are on go-slow and there are some duties which they refuse to do, this means they are breaching provisions of their terms of employment. They can’t get paid while they are not working; it’s as simple as that, ” Mr Mohlomi said.

“We are not fighting the officers here; we are just trying to use mechanisms to normalise the situation in the LCS.”

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