Prison officers demanded an end to the “draconian” ban on them taking strike action today as they fight to improve their pay and working conditions.
A motion calling for the ban to be lifted received almost unanimous backing from delegates on the third day of the Prison Officers Association’s annual conference in Eastbourne.
It instructed the union’s executive council to put pressure on Tory ministers to repeal section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.
The legislation, passed in 1994 by John Major’s Conservative government, makes it unlawful for anyone to “induce a prison officer to take industrial action.”
Abolishing the prohibition would “reinstate the leverage of the union and its members,” the motion said.
Stuart Susek, who moved the proposition, accused the government and employers of not wanting to listen to prison and probation staff, who remain a “hidden service.”
The Moorland delegate said: “Since [the ban] was introduced, our employers have taken us through a raft of changes to our terms and conditions and health and safety.
“Our workload has increased — we became firefighters, first responders, mental health workers.
“We’ve been on a pay freeze since 2015. Our members, with the cost of living, are going to go into financial hardship.
“Staffing levels are getting dangerous. They’re relying on our good will to extend our shifts and give up our rest days, but how long can this continue?”
Earlier this week, POA national chairman Mark Fairhurst warned of an impending “cost-of-leaving” crisis as underpaid and overstretched staff look for work in less dangerous sectors.
Mr Susek added: “Section 127 limits our bargaining power, the ability to make our employer sit down and truly listen to what we need.
“Repealing this Act would give us a level playing field with other public-sector trade unions, make our voices heard.”
Deputy general secretary Joe Simpson backed the motion, saying that the right to strike had been removed because ministers and bosses were afraid of organised workers.
“Can you imagine if we still had it?” he said. “Would we be retiring at 67? Don’t think so. Would we have better pay rises? Yes, we would. Would we have the staffing crisis? No, we wouldn’t.
“That’s the power that would be in our hands. We are an independent trade union and we should be treated with the utmost dignity and respect.”
Published in the Morning Star on 19th May 2022.