Staff set to strike again at Shropshire young offenders institute

Staff at the Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institute, near Market Drayton, are set to strike on Wednesday, in a long-running health and safety dispute with employer Novus.

Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution, near Market Drayton.
Stoke Heath Young Offenders Institution, near Market Drayton.

The strike will involved 600 officers at 49 prisons across the country. It will be the fourth time members represented by the University and College Union (UCU), will have walked out in the past two months.

The union says the dispute is over the failure to address health and safety concerns raised by prison educators, meaningfully engage with UCU on the part of Novus, and allegations of intimidation of staff who had raised health and safety issues.

Novus is the biggest prison education employer in the UK and is owned by parent company LTE Group.

Jo Grady, the union's general secretary, said that at the height of the Covid second wave in January, UCU wrote to all English prison education employers requesting changes to education delivery to keep staff and learners safe.

"Every employer apart from Novus responded positively to the union’s requests," she said.

"Other prison education employers confirmed with UCU that they had put in place new safety measures in response to the second wave, including skeleton staffing, strict workplace bubble rotas, and limiting in-person teaching. They continue to work with UCU to ensure the continued health and safety of staff is a priority.

"We have received reports from members that new and inexperienced Novus staff have been sent onto wings without any personal protection training; that staff have been asked to visit multiple residential units, negating attempts to create workplace bubbles."

The union says the company is also investigation UCU health and safety representatives.

"At an ACAS meeting last week, Novus said the investigation had finished, but refused to share its findings with UCU or assure the union that no action would be taken against staff fighting for a safe teaching and learning environment."

Novus employee and safety representative Brian Hamilton said: ‘Continuous industrial action on this scale by prison educators is unprecedented and reflects the anger staff feel about the lack of care Novus has for our safety.

"This is now the fourth day of strike action and we are absolutely prepared to take further industrial action to protect our colleagues and learners.’"

Mark Fairhurst, national chair of the Prison Officers Assocation, which represents over 30,000 prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers, said: ‘Prison officers stand with Novus employees fighting for their health and safety.

"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.’

Novus has been asked to comment.

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