Fury as prison officers agree no strike pact

Caution – update. The accuracy of this news item, versions of which have appeared in both The Scotsman and The Scottish Times, have been disputed by the SPOA in a letter seen by Converse which you can view here http://www.docdroid.net/skz8/prison-officers-no-strike-story-simply-wrong.docx.html

Ministers were accused of “bribing” Scottish prison officers to give up their right to strike as unions reacted with fury to news of a no-strike deal.

Grahame Smith, general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, described the deal as “totally unacceptable”, while Labour said it was “astonishing” that the Scottish government had asked prison officers to give up a fundamental democratic right.

The deal between the Prison Officers Association (POA) and the state-run Scottish Prisons Service (SPS) means that officers will each be given a £2,000 bonus payment but will have to return the money if they strike within the next two years.

Andy Hogg, assistant general secretary of the POA, admitted that the union had effectively agreed not to “induce action” for the period of time covered by the deal.

Mr Smith said: “The Scottish government has a number of questions to answer about how it can stand with me and condemn the Tories for threatening to introduce strike ballot thresholds while at the same time encouraging a no-strike agreement in the Scottish Prisons Service.”

Mr Smith also made a thinly-veiled threat to the POA, warning that it had to consider the effects of the deal on other unions. “The POA in Scotland also has to recognise that, as an STUC member union, it has a responsibility to act in the collective interest of unions and not to do deals that disadvantage sister unions,” he said.

Scotland’s 3,500 prison officers are the only ones in the UK who retain the right to strike. While the deal struck with the SPS does not negate that legally, it has in practical terms brought them into line with officers in the rest of the UK.

Neil Findlay, Labour’s spokesman on fair work, said that the deal would hit the whole trade union movement. “This deal is a complete disservice to the trade union movement and lays bare an unhealthy relationship between SNP ministers and the POA Scotland leadership,” he said.

He added: “The right for workers to withdraw their labour is a fundamental right recognised by the United Nations. So for the SNP government to demand the removal of this right in return for financial reward is frankly astonishing.”

He asked: “How does this sit with the SNP’s claim to be the party that promotes fair work and champions social justice?”

The Scottish government said that the issue of pay for prison officers was an operational matter for the SPS. A spokesman said: “A deal was negotiated and reached between the Scottish Prisons Service and their own prison officers. Any financial costs incurred will therefore be met from within SPS’s own existing budgets, not from the Scottish government.”

A spokeswoman for the SPS described the deal as positive. “Both partners welcome the longer-term stability this agreement will provide,” she said.

Mark Leech editor of The Prisons Handbook and a long time critic of prison strikes welcomed the deal.

Mr Leech said: “In 2015 its ridiculous that essential public services like the Prison Service can still put the public at risk by strike action.

“This is a deal for common sense and I welcome it and I hope to see the English Prison Service, where strikes are illegal but still occur following suit.”