GUARDS at every prison in England and Wales walked out yesterday in defiance of ministers who branded their action “unlawful.”
The Prison Officers’ Association (POA) instructed members across the country to hold “meetings outside their establishments’ gates” on Friday morning as they slammed the Tory government over “increasing violence, challenging working environments and destructive budget cuts.”
They said that Justice Secretary Michael Gove’s decision to force through changes to the supervision regime without consulting guards was the last straw.
In a memo to officers, POA general secretary Steve Gillan and national chairman Mike Rolfe said Mr Gove was trying to “break up” prisons into a system “that models itself on academy schools and foundation hospitals,” leading to an assault on workers’ rights.
“The pain and suffering of our members and the prisoners in our charge will continue until this union and its members are properly listened to,” the pair wrote.
“We will make no apology for asking members to call these meetings and the impact on regimes that this may bring. Our message to the employer will be that this is the start of things to come if you fail to listen, fail to respond and fail to act on our concerns.”
The national walkout follows similar actions at five prisons affected by overcrowding in recent months — with staff citing safety concerns.
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “This morning’s unlawful industrial action lasted an hour or less at most prisons.
All staff have now resumed normal working. An appropriate level of security was in place across the prison estate at all times.
“Strike action is unlawful for prison officers. We are in regular contact with unions and are continuing discussions to address any concerns they have.”
But Labour shadow prisons minister Jo Stevens said guards “rightly feel aggrieved” about the lack of consultation.
“Any sensible employer undertaking major changes in the workplace would actively engage with their workforce right at the start, so those changes have the best chance of success,” she said.
“Our prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and violence against prison officers is at record levels.”