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Angry prison officers walk out over reforms
Prison officers in England and Wales staged unofficial walkouts on 8 July in protest against proposed reforms. Their union, the POA, is angry that its members have not been consulted over the government's plans to change the way prisoners are supervised - which it believes could lead to redundancies. In a joint letter, the POA's national chairman, Mike Rolfe, and general secretary, Steve Gillian, say the reforms will lead to a diminishing of workers' rights and add that they make "no apology" for asking members to call the walkout meetings.
Wormwood Scrubs POA branch secretary introduced the meeting of 70-80 officers outside the prison gates with an honest warning: "You are all aware that you will lose an hour's pay if you stay out this hour till 9 am." No one moved!
"This is already a minor victory, as the governors had originally threatened to deduct a half day's pay. But when they found out it was a national action they had to retreat as they couldn't get a bus load of alternatives to stand in."
Other very pertinent questions were raised: "What is the next step?" asked a young woman officer. Another officer, who once faced armed police when trying to get donated food supplies through to striking miners and their families in 1984, asked what plans there were to link up with other unions.
Rob Williams, National Shop Stewards Network chair and Socialist Party member, explained the action of many other sections of workers over this period and how the other union leaders and the TUC need to urgently act on this while they are faced with a very weak government.
Around 100 POA members walked out for a gate meeting at HMP Leeds to express their opposition to chronic understaffing in prisons.
POA members told us about their frustrations, expected to juggle responsibilities to keep prisons running, while being understaffed and paid well below what their responsibilities should entail.
At the meeting, comments were made by speakers linking the 'reforms' to the prison service to those affecting education and health. Prisons will be expected to function like academy schools and foundation hospitals, effectively attempting to break up a national service.
Over 100 members of the POA held a one-hour mass meeting outside HMP Liverpool.
Mark Fairhurst, POA national executive committee member, told me:
"We want to avoid things like this, we want to engage with our employer and come to a satisfactory arrangement to protect the terms and conditions of all our members.
"Unfortunately, we're not in a position to do that because our employer has decided that they're not going to consult with us, they're not going to engage. We won't be intimidated like that, we will stay strong and we will do whatever is within our power to protect the terms and conditions of our members, and also the safety of both prisoners and staff."
Around 60 POA members met outside Swansea prison. Tony Thomas, Swansea POA branch secretary, reported that across the prison service there has been a big increase of violent attacks on thousands of members as staff struggle with reduced staffing and the inevitable increased workloads.
Further protests and action seem inevitable and solidarity from the wider trade union movement will be vital in helping to achieve a satisfactory conclusion.
5 Jun Ken Douglas
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