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Mark Healy chairman Prison Officers Association
"We want talks. There is no one to talk to"
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Wednesday, 2 August, 2000, 11:24 GMT 12:24 UK
Prison officers stage illegal strike
Prison officer
Walkout: Warders hold illegal strike
Prison officers have staged illegal strike action in a ongoing dispute over a proposed prison privatisation.

The Prison Service has threatened court action if the strikes are repeated.

Brixton prison
Brixton prison: Row erupts over "planned privatisation"

More than 30,000 prison warders in England, Scotland and Wales were urged to walkout on Wednesday morning, despite being banned from going on strike.

The Prison Officers Association (POA) called for the walkout over fears the government is planning to privatise the troubled Brixton prison.

High Court injunction

A third of prisons in England and Wales and all prisons in Scotland were affected, the Prison Service confirmed.

Market tests are inevitable

Martin Narey Prison Service

Warders are banned from taking strike action under a law brought in by the last Conservative government.

Martin Narey, director general of the Prison Service, said that early indications showed the action did not have widespread support.

He said: "If the POA repeats this action, I will have no hesitation in seeking a High Court injunction."

Prison minister Paul Boateng decided to market test the London jail with a view to privatisation after it was mired in controversy.

Mr Narey said the market testing of Brixton Prison would go ahead.

He said: "As I told the POA conference in April, market tests are inevitable."

Warders held unauthorised union meetings on Wednesday morning, effectively striking, before returning to normal duty.

Within half an hour of the strike starting, union leaders received a fax from the Prison Service demanding they return to normal work by 0930 BST, or face legal action.

'Failed experiment'

Mark Healy, the national chairman of the POA, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Private prisons are an experiment that has been in this country for eight years and they have failed.

Levels of violence are far greater in the private sector

Mark Healy POA

"Levels of violence... and suicide are far greater in the private sector. What we want is talks. There is no one to talk to."

He said Mr Boateng's policy had "scant regard for the health and safety of prisoners and prison officers".

A Prison Service spokeswoman said she could not comment on the strike action.

She said: "We have been working with the POA closely and we are prepared to listen to their concerns."

Assault rates in private sector prisons are twice the figure for state-run jails, the POA has said.

UK prison officers have not staged a strike for more than 60 years.

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See also:

27 Jul 00 | UK
Work to rule at Brixton
06 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Private firm to run failing prison
08 Oct 99 | Health
Prison health care condemned
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