Prison officers call off national strike

A strike by thousands of prison officers has been called off after the government offered fresh talks in a bitter row over pay. Prison officers in Norwich defied their governor’s orders to return to duties inside the jail following a stand-off on Wednesday afternoon. Blundeston and Whitemoor prisons were also hit by the industrial action.

A strike by thousands of prison officers was called off this evening after the government offered fresh talks in a bitter row over pay.

The Prison Officers Association said 20,000 of its members took part in the walkout.

Prison officers in Norwich had defied their governor's orders to return to duties inside the jail following a stand-off this afternoon.

The majority of Norwich prison's 180 guards joined the walkout despite the court order banning the industrial action at a national level.

Governor James Shanley read a statement from the Ministry of Justice to those picketting, instructing them to return to work but the majority continued to strike.

Mr Shanley was under instructions from the government not to comment today. However, the EDP understands a contingency plan was put in place with senior managers working alongside Norfolk police to ensure the 824-capcity prison was made safe.

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Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers Association, said: “Our trade union rights were stripped away by the Tory government in 1993.

“Since then we have campaigned, lobbied and challenged through the courts to have our human rights as workers restored, all to no avail. Today is the first step of this union taking back what is rightfully its own, that being trade union rights.”

About 80 wardens declined to go into work at Blundeston prison, including 90pc of Prison Officers Association members. The prison, near Lowestoft, was staffed by about 20 officers and governor-grade staff to oversee a "controlled unlock" for meals and to ensure the safety of prisoners with the reduced workforce.

Several wardens waited at the prison gates to inform colleagues of the action, but by 3pm they had begun to leave.

Paul Ash, chairman of the Blundeston branch of the Prison Officers Association, said: "We are not picketing. The strike started at 7am and it will continue until 7am tomorrow morning, but we are not turning away people or vehicles.”

Hundreds of officers at Whitemoor Prison, March, also joined the action.

Ray King, chairman of the POA at Whitemoor said feelings among his members were running high. He added: “The majority of staff due to work this morning, once informed of the action, have gone home.”

The governor of Wayland prison refused to comment but it is understood officers there also joined the strike.

Fresh pay talks will be held on Friday.

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