More than 400 warders at Mangaung Prison in Bloemfontein have gone on strike over conditions at the facility.

Johannesburg - More than 400 warders at Mangaung Prison in Bloemfontein, run by the security company G4S, went on strike on Wednesday.

The stand-off between prison management and workers became more entrenched when the prison’s human resources director, Stephen Page, refused to accept a petition listing grievances and demands.

The G4S Africa director for human resources, Elanie Kruger, had to be flown in to discuss the drawn-out labour dispute that caused the strike. She was to meet Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) officials on Thursday morning.

The workers, all union members, marched to the entrance of the prison, where the police barred access and told them they would be arrested for trespassing if they tried to enter.

The biggest labour disruption at the prison to date was triggered by the suspension on Monday of five employees accused of inciting a collective stayaway last month.

The Labour Court ruled that the action amounted to an unprotected strike in terms of the Labour Relations Act and ordered all employees to return to work.

The warders’ most pressing concern is the lack of protection for the unarmed guards in the highly violent prison, where gangs regularly stab, maim and rape the guards. Their calls for help have gone unheard for years.

* Ruth Hopkins is a journalist for the Wits Justice Project.

The Star