Prison walk-out threat closer

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HINDLEY Prison officers look set for industrial action in their pensions battle.

The warning follows confirmation by the Prison Officers Association (POA) that members have overwhelmingly backed their “68 Is Too Late” retirement age fight with the Government.

A consultative ballot of prison staff has solidly rejected the Ministry of Justice’s “final offer” on changes to the Principal Civil Service Pension Scheme.

The POA says that the Coalition proposals - removing officers from the normal pension age and state pension – are “totally unacceptable” because it will force members doing a physically challenging job up to three years longer than other workers.

Officers say they have already been affected by the way pensions are accrued and revalued for inflation following the imposition on the indexation from the Retail Price Index to the Consumer Price Index.

They are now calling on the Government to take part in more talks to explore sources of additional funding which could be used to head off the proposed retirement age changes.

They are inviting MPs to demonstrations of the reality of the Control and Restraint techniques that prison officers must use on a regular basis on un co-operative prisoners.

Nationally, the POA national executive committee have taken the comparatively unusual position and adopted a “neutral” stance during the ballot, arguing that pensions meant different things to different individuals.

They are now committed to working with other public sector unions to oppose the increase in the state pension age to 68 and the Government’s threat that they may be “forced” to make it even higher because of the budget deficit. A spokesman for the POA said that they will not accept that front line operational prison staff should be forced to work to this age before retirement.

He said: “Prisons are dangerous places to work and play a vital role in society.

“If they are to remain safe, secure and decent the Government must consider the implications of the final offer and proposed changes

“The ballot result is a massive rejection of pension changes by a loyal and hard working workforce who protect the general.

We don’t believe the general public will want to see prison officers being forced to work until 68 years of age.

“The ballot result is clear and unambiguous and the POA won’t allow politicians to compromise the health and safety of our members and the prisoners in our care.

He added that a pensionable age of 68 was “inappropriate” within essential public bodies like the prison service.

A Prison Service spokesperson said: “POA conference motions are a matter for the POA.

“However, strike action is unlawful for prison officers and we will take all necessary steps to ensure the safety and security of prisons.”