May uses courts against prison officers!

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Prison officers outside Brixton prison forced to take strike action for health and safety reasons
Prison officers outside Brixton prison forced to take strike action for health and safety reasons

THE government was in the High Court yesterday where it won an injunction against striking prison staff.

The court ordered prison staff to return to work yesterday afternoon. Up to 10,000 prison officers in England stopped work at midnight Monday in protest against a ‘surge in violence’ in jails. It is illegal for prison staff to strike but the Prison Officers Association said ‘protest action’ under Health and Safety law is needed to keep staff and inmates safe.

Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Prisons and Probation Sam Gyimah urged the the POA to comply with the injunction. The union meanwhile is consulting its lawyers. Gyimah added that protesting prison officers are ‘in breach of contract and will not be paid’ while not at work.

A POA spokesman said the union’s executive is waiting to hear from their lawyers. He said: ‘The government can make all the threats they want. We’ll either tell members to end the protest meetings or tell them not to and face the wrath of the courts. When we’ve seen the injunction we’ll make a statement.’

Earlier, Justice Secretary Liz Truss claimed the action is ‘unnecessary and unlawful’. She told MPs that government officials had been holding talks with the POA over the last two weeks. Speaking in the House of Commons, Truss said prison officers do a ‘tough and difficult job’ but the POA had failed to respond to government proposals to tackle their concerns.

POA national chairman Mike Rolfe said most local prisons had staff ‘out the front’ and taking part in the protest. He said his members were taking part in health and safety meetings at the prisons and would carry on with their protest. Rolfe added: ‘Our members do not take this lightly.

‘Conditions have got so extreme and so dangerous in prisons for both the prison officers and the prisoners, it cannot carry on. We need to sort this out before any more lives are lost or blood is shed.’

At a protest outside Brixton Prison, southwest London yesterday lunchtime, Brixton POA branch chair Mark Poulton told News Line: ‘Prisons are very violent places.

‘They’ve been getting out of control for ages. This is because, from our point of view, there’s been a 30% cut in staff over the past five years.

‘As you could see in last week’s Dispatches programme, there is a disaster going on in our prisons. In the job I joined, there were four officers per landing. Now there are just four per wing. That means at unlock time that’s effectively a 75% cut in staff. You talk to any prisoner, shortage in staffing is causing their problems.’ He added: ‘When we get the court result our national executive will advise us.’