Prison officers' strike ends in England and Wales

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wormwood Scrubs Prison entrance.
Image: David Hawgood.

Prison officers in England and Wales are on strike today as part of a continuing dispute over pay rates with employers, the Ministry of Justice.

The Prison Officers' Association (POA) announced the strike, the first in its history, at 0600 (BST) on the morning of the 29th of August, just an hour before it was due to start. As the morning progressed, officers at most public prisons across the two countries locked prisoners in their cells (a "lockdown") and walked out, aiming to remain on strike until 0700 on the 30th.

The strike has been condemned by the Ministry of Justice, as a breach of the Industrial Relations Act, with Justice Secretary Jack Straw calling it "deeply regrettable and wholly unjustifiable". Immediately following the announcement of the action, the Ministry commenced proceedings to gain a High Court injunction against the POA. Such an injunction was granted by Mr Justice Ramsey, who said that there was "overwhelming case" for it, after the court heard evidence that a Joint Industrial Relations Procedural Agreement, agreed to prevent industrial action, had been broken.

Despite the court proceedings, the strike continued largely unabated, and was expected to run its full course.

Inmates were at one point reported to have been seen on the roof of Liverpool Prison, however the situation was brought under control without any escapees.

In Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, all 1,300 prisoners were being looked after by just eight governors, while at Cardiff, as prisoners, locked in their cells, shouted "You're breaking the law" to the officers standing in the car park. As a result of the lack of staff, prisoners could not be transported to court, were fed in their cells, could not be visited and could not take part in any rehabilitation or community service courses. In addition, 900 prisoners had to be accommodated elsewhere, unable to be admitted to public prisons.

This evening, this strike was called off by the POA, who issued an order to all of its members to return to work, with further pay discussions expected to come on Friday.