Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/500/3086
The Socialist 30 August 2007 |
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Prison officers' action
Strike against public-sector pay cap
On 29 August, the Prison Officers' Association (POA) held its first ever national day of strike action, with over 20,000 staff walking out from all public prisons in England and Wales.
An earlier ballot showed 87% support for action up to and including striking.
The POA had its right to strike removed under the Tories in 1994. Labour repealed this but introduced a voluntary 'no-strike' agreement.
Earlier this year, the POA, angry after two years of below-inflation pay deals, told the government it was withdrawing from this agreement.
Under the agreement, the union was supposed to give the government 12 months notice of withdrawal, which is how the government got a court injunction and declared the strike illegal.
POA branch rep John Hancock spoke to Chris Newby and Keith Dickinson outside Wormwood Scrubs prison on the day of the strike.
"There was 93% of us locally in favour of taking industrial action. I think that's reflected in what's happened today across the country, the tremendous support for the strike.
The main issues are the fact that we're supposed to have an independent pay review body and the recommendation that they give is supposed to be binding on both sides. Over the last two or three years the government has accepted what the pay review body has said but phased the award in.
Last year the review body said 2.5% but then they phased it in, so effectively over the year it became 1.9%.
So we've had year-on-year cuts in our pay whilst we've been over-achieving on our targets. So we're now absolutely fed up with the fact that we're not getting paid for the job that we're doing.
Also there's been massive staff cuts. Ten years ago we had 400 officers here. We're now down to just over half of that. And yet the prison population has gone from 40,000 to 80,000.
In the Scrubs at the moment we have 1,300 inmates and 230 officers so it's five or six prisoners to one officer.
Most of us are outside here now and I'm very very proud of the branch for this turnout.
We're already worse off now than we were 10 years ago and there's a proposal for more staff cuts over the next three years. This will mean more escapes, less drug testing etc. Inmates will be locked up on Friday as well as Saturday and Sunday. What sort of problems is that going to cause us on a Monday morning?
The government said today that this dispute was wholly unlawful. I would say it's wholly unnecessary because had the government not reneged on the promise that they made while they were in opposition to reform trade union rights we probably would not have had action today.
We balloted according to the trade union laws but they are saying we have a no-strike commitment. But the prison service can break their side of this agreement whenever they feel like it. They don't like it when the prison officers have done exactly the same.
I attended the National Shop Stewards Network conference and I'm very much in favour of Bob Crow's stand. He has been exceptionally supportive towards us.
The general feeling here is upbeat and hopefully we'll get a settlement sooner rather than later."