Friday, April 22, 2011

This is what privatization delivers: systemic crises in immigration detention

photo courtesy of the ABC

So another privatized detention centre burns. Only weeks after the Christmas Island detention centres erupted in protests, riots and fires, the unrest has spread to Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre.

Former staff of Serco, the UK multinational corporation that runs the privatized detention centres, are already pointing the finger directly at the corporation, claiming that it contributed to the crises. Serco whistle blowers claim that at Villawood (like Christmas Island), Serco's incompetence and mismanagement were a primary cause of the riots.

The whitleblower claims that:
  • Serco management threw raw and untrained recruits into the detention centre without proper training
  • Training courses for new staff were dropped
  • Serco staff lack basic training and are forced to learn "on the job" 
  • Serco management constantly understaff the centre
  • Serco has no effective emergency management procedures for such events.
These are precisely the claims made against Serco at Christmas Island; claims that are now the subject of multiple investigations into Serco's management of the Christmas Island Centres, and it looks likely that the investigations will be extended to include Serco's management of Villawood.

The ABC reports that:
The detention centre was set on fire, while asylum seekers overwhelmed staff from the detention centre service provider, Serco.

The former guard says there would have been 11 staff members rostered on the night the asylum seekers rioted. 

He says his former employer, Serco, does not train staff properly and would not have known what to do when trouble starts. 

"From what I've seen, new recruits are basically put on the floor with no training whatsoever," he said. 

"They were told that they would be trained as they worked and that also has never happened before. Basically what is supposed to happen is, they go through at least a six-week minimum course and then have a year of on-the-job training. 

"Serco basically got rid of the six-week course using staffing levels as an excuse and basically threw the staff onto the floor and expected experienced staff to train them as well as do their normal jobs."

He says Serco has never emphasised emergency response training for incidents like fire and riots experienced on Wednesday night. 

"I am led to believe they still don't have any real effective emergency operational procedures. So basically (Wednesday night) would have been every man for themselves," he said.

In a statement, Serco acknowledged an increased number of arrivals and longer periods of detention have placed significant pressures on their operations. 

The company said its staff training program meets it contractual requirements and that it has provided additional training beyond what is contracted and has invested $1.5 million in staff training.

This is the second Australian immigration detention to be set on fire this year. Riots at the Christmas Island detention centre in March led to tear gas and bean bag rounds being fired at asylum seekers.

The former Villawood guard says the Federal Government should review Serco's contract. 

"They've had pretty poor performance. Basically the spate of incidents, major incidents, under Serco's control have been ... there's just been too many. So I really think that the contract should be reassessed," he said.

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