Health and Safety Concerns Raised by Prison Staff Set to Strike

Across 49 Prisons in England, 600 Staff are set to Strike Amid Coronavirus Health and Safety Concerns


Staff at HMP Durham and Young Offender Institution (YOI) Low Newton, who are represented by the University and College Union, will walk out for the fourth time in the past two months.

This dispute is about the alleged failure to address health and safety concerns which the prison educators raised and also the failure to meaningfully engage with UCU (on behalf of Novus) and repeated attempts by the management to intimidate staff who raised concerns.

At the pinnacle of the second wave of COVID in January the UCU wrote to all English prison education employers, requesting that changes were made to keep staff and learners safe.
The union said all employers bar Novus responded positively to the union’s requests.

Mark Fairhurst, of the Prison Officers’ Association, said: “Prison officers stand with Novus employees. Novus should be ashamed that staff have been forced into a position where they have to go on strike to protect themselves. It now needs to resolve the dispute rather than causing further disruption for learners and prison officers.”

Other prison education companies confirmed with the UCU that they implemented modified safety measure due to the second wave such as a skeleton staff, bubble rotas and reduced in-person teaching.

A spokesperson for Novus said: “Our commitment to the health and safety of our colleagues and learners has always been our top priority and we are disappointed that despite our best efforts to resolve the dispute, industrial action by UCU continues. All health and safety concerns raised by colleagues are regularly reviewed and investigated and appropriate action is taken by the Group Health and Safety Managers.

These issues are regularly discussed with union members in a recurring health and safety meeting. Unfortunately, despite an open invitation to join these meetings, UCU have not attended since January this year. This has materially impacted our ability to have an open dialogue with UCU on health and safety matters. Throughout previous industrial action there has been minimal impact to our service across all our establishments with over 90 per cent of Novus colleagues working as usual.

We have continued to maintain access to education for our learners at all times and have been able to deliver our usual high standard of education to the men, women and children we support.

We remain open to discussions with UCU.”