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Prison officers to vote on industrial action in pay row

The Prison Officers Association Scotland said its members face another year of capped wage rises.

Prison officer union leaders say pay levels are ‘inadequate’ (Victoria Jones/PA)
Prison officer union leaders say pay levels are ‘inadequate’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

Prison officers are to be balloted on industrial action over pay, as union leaders warned staff morale “has never been lower”.

The Prison Officers Association Scotland said its members are feeling anger and frustration as they face what union bosses claim is the prospect of another year of capped pay rises.

The concerns over “inadequate” pay come as officers have to deal with growing levels of violence, overcrowding and increasingly volatile environments, according to the union.

It has called for the Scottish Government to respond quickly to its concerns, cautioning: “We are on the slippy slope back to the dark days of the 80s.”

The Prison Officers Association Scotland agreed to the ballot at a special conference in Perth on Friday.

We have the makings of a perfect storm Andy Hogg, POA Scotland

Assistant general secretary Andy Hogg said: “This decision reflects the anger and frustration of our members over the lack of progress around their inadequate levels of pay.

“In 2014 it was accepted by the then justice secretary that a new pay structure should be introduced to recognise and reward Scottish prison officers appropriately for the challenging work they do. Five years on we are no further forward.

“This is coming at a time when our members are subject to increasing levels of violence, excessive overcrowding and an environment that is becoming ever more volatile through staff exposure to psychoactive substances and the violent behaviour of prisoners under their influence.

“We are on the slippy slope back to the dark days of the 80s and staff morale has never been lower. We have the makings of a perfect storm.”

The union has not yet announced a date for the ballot.

Scottish national chairman Phil Fairlie said: “At a time when we should be sitting down discussing proper staffing levels for our prisons and a pay system that rewards and recognises the incredible work our members are doing every day, we are in fact being invited to discuss where to find in excess of £20 million of savings due to the SPS budget settlement.

“Scottish Government need to listen to what we are telling them and respond quickly, before we find ourselves trying to manage a crisis in our prisons that is gathering momentum day by day.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Prison Service said: “The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) holds its prison officers in high regard and values the commitment and dedication that they have shown for many years.

“Prisons in Scotland are under enormous pressure and it is to the great credit of all concerned with their operation that they continue to function safely and well.

“That the Prison Officers Association has taken the decision to ballot for industrial action over pay is a worrying development, particularly when the service is under such strain.

“The SPS is already in discussions about pay and conditions with its trade union partners, including the POA(S).

“In conjunction with the Scottish Government, SPS will do everything it can to arrive at a fair and acceptable pay settlement.”

The Scottish Conservatives said the development is “extremely concerning”.

Their community safety spokesman Maurice Corry said: “There’s clearly an issue with capacity in the prison system, and prison officers are under increasing strain.”

Community Safety Minister Ash Denham said: “We ‎value the dedication, commitment and professionalism of Scotland’s hard-working prison officers and other staff…

“We are actively monitoring the rising prison population and have been working closely with the prison service to put contingency measures in place to ensure the safety and security of staff and people in its care are maintained.

“Formal pay negotiations for prison officers have not yet commenced for 2019/20 but informal discussions with the POA(S) and the Scottish Prison Service as the employer are ongoing.

“The Scottish Government would not wish to prejudice the outcome of those discussions.”

PA

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