Prison officers’ ‘lightning strike’ focuses on rise in retirement age

PICKET LINE: Union members at Preston Prison are angry at raising the retirement age to 68
PICKET LINE: Union members at Preston Prison are angry at raising the retirement age to 68
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HUNDREDS of prison staff walked out of work in illegal “lightning strikes” across Lancashire.

Staff at HMP Preston in Ribbleton Lane formed a surprise picket line outside the prison at 6am yesterday over proposed changes to pensions, pay and conditions and retirement age.

The strike was organised by the Prison Officers Association to coincide with public sector strikes, which were taking place across England, Wales and Scotland.

It is illegal for prison officers to go on strike in England and Wales, and the National Offender Management Service said it was “extremely disappointed” by the action.

One prison officer, who did not wish to be named, said managers arrived in work early to provide cover for the officers on strike.

And a sign at the prison read: “No visitors today due to industrial action”.

Jim Starkey, a Prison Officers Association (POA) representative who works at the prison, said around 80 or 90 workers, the majority of officers at the prison, had walked out, along with hundreds of officers at Garth and Wymott prisons in Leyland, Kirkham prison and Lancaster Farms.

He said only around 25 workers not affiliated to the union had gone into work. He added: “It’s a protest, because the government is raising the retirement age for prison officers up to 68, which is a ridiculous age to be carrying this job out.

“It’s a vindictive act, really.

“The police and fire service have a maximum age capped at 60, yet they expect us to deal with violent and dangerous prisoners at 68 years of age.

“We will remain out here until told otherwise by the national executive committee of the Prison Officers Association.

“Nobody from day shift turned in at 6.30am.

“There are hundreds of prison officers out on strike across Lancashire.”

The protest was the first by prison officers in five years.

Michael Spurr, National Offender Management Service chief executive, said: “I am extremely disappointed that the POA has taken this unlawful action.

“We have implemented our contingency plans, and our priority is to protect the public and ensure that prisons remain safe and secure.

“In 2007, the POA agreed that the normal pension age for new prison officers would be 65, in line with all other civil servants.

“The Government has been in constructive discussions with the POA about further pension reform, and it is deeply regrettable that this action has been taken now.”