Belfast Telegraph

Prison officers in strike threat over pay

04 October 2004

Prison union chiefs in Northern Ireland are ready to take unprecedented industrial action if a bitter pay row is not resolved, they warned today.

As 1,600 officers withdrew all goodwill at the province's three main jails, their leader confirmed illegal strikes had not been ruled out.

Northern Ireland Prison Officers' Association chairman Finlay Spratt said: "I would be prepared to go further, but that's something I would have to consult members on.

"The membership will try and convince the Government to listen to their case within the law.

"But it will come to a stage when people are saying they are not listening to us within the law. Maybe it's time to break the law."

Warders today slowed down the regime at the high-security Maghaberry Jail near Lisburn, Co Antrim, where terrorists including feared loyalist Johnny 'Mad Dog' Adair are held, by only coming through the gates at clock-in time.

The same tactic was used at Magilligan Prison, in Co Londonderry, and Hydebank Wood Young Offenders' Centre in Bangor, Co Down.

Inmates could arrive late for court appearances because of the indefinite action.

It follows a 48-hour weekend overtime ban by staff as the dispute over pay and pension arrangements intensified.

The new deal was thrashed out by independent assessors after submissions by the Northern Ireland Prison Service, union leaders and a Governors' Association.

Staff caused huge disruption by staging 'blue-flu' walkouts last year in an earlier row over security packages when their details were found on alleged intelligence files.

With strikes outlawed under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, Mr Spratt stressed that his members have yet to take that step.

But he pledged: "We will look at every way possible to escalate this campaign."

The Prison Service insisted it was powerless to intervene.

A spokeswoman said: "These are not the normal pay negotiations, because the pay award is determined by an independent pay review body."

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