|Volume 51 Number 14, April 24, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Prison education workers and their union UCU have announced three days of strike action at prisons across the country over Covid health and safety concerns. Education workers will stage a one-day walkout at 49 prison and young offender institutions on April 26 followed by a two-day strike on May 11 and 12. The employer, Novus, along with the rest of the prison service authority has failed to resolve notorious problems affecting both prisons and the prison workers.
This comes at a time when workers, many of whom have worked throughout lockdown and have not been furloughed, have continued to demand satisfactory working conditions. It also coincides with the TUC recently commenting on easing of restrictions.
TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady said:
"As we reopen the economy, we must not drop our guard on workplace safety. If workplaces aren't Covid-secure, coronavirus cases could spiral out of control again.
"Ministers must tell the Health and Safety Executive to crack down on bad bosses who play fast and loose with workers' safety. It's a national scandal that not a single employer has been prosecuted and fined for putting workers or the public at risk.
"Vaccinations can't be a substitute for comprehensive health and safety measures to make workplaces safe.
"And the government needs to wake up to the fact that a lack of decent sick pay undermines safe return to work. Ministers must raise statutory sick pay to the level of the real Living Wage, and make sure everyone can get it."
Novus is responsible for providing education at the sites where staff are taking industrial action. The strike is over the company's refusal to listen and meaningfully engage with UCU over Covid health and safety concerns and on-site provision. The employer is upsetting the social relation in which it stands with its employees and is imposing its control over conditions. Such a breakdown of equilibrium calls into question the credibility of authority in the prisons. If that authority cannot secure the welfare of all of its workers, whether or not they come under a separate contracted-out company such as Novus, how can they oversee the safety and security of the prison population? The situation is not conducive to good human relations of any kind. According to the union, Novus has been using complaints and investigations to intimidate UCU's health and safety representatives, making it difficult for staff to raise and discuss safety concerns.
Two-thirds of UCU members who were balloted on April 23 voted for strike action. Over 82% of members voted to take other forms of action, such as working to rule, and refusal to enter prison wings other than to access education departments. There may be non-attendance on site where members believe that inadequate safety measures are in place.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:
"Strike action is never taken lightly, but prison educators will not allow Novus to put their health and safety at risk. If Novus wants to avoid these strikes, it needs to listen to this strong mandate from staff, stop intimidating our health and safety representatives, and withdraw the unfair complaints and investigations against them, so that we can have meaningful health and safety discussions.
"Unless Novus stops its bullying behaviour, our members will walk out on April 26, followed by a two-day strike on May 11 and 12. We have a mandate to take sustained industrial action and Novus needs to urgently address staff health and safety concerns if it wants to avoid further disruption."
The struggle for workers' right to work in safe environments continues. Security lies in the fight for the right of workers to speak and act in their own name. The dispute underscores the need for new public authority, and it is up to workers to constitute it.