Prison educators end long-running health and safety dispute

Around 600 staff at 49 prisons took four days of strike action between April and June 2021

Around 600 staff at 49 prisons took four days of strike action between April and June 2021

26 Oct 2021, 16:22

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A bitter dispute between a union and a prison education provider has finally ended after new health and safety measures were agreed.

Around 600 staff at 49 prisons took four days of strike action between April and June 2021 after Covid-19 safety concerns were allegedly not addressed.

The employer in question, Novus, had also launched investigations into University and College Union members who raised health and safety concerns. These cases have now been dropped, the union said today.

New measures to be implemented, following talks at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), includes “improved risk assessment processes and systems of work to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of prison education staff”.

A UCU spokesperson said: “Regular meetings over safety concerns are taking place with meaningful engagement from Novus. Staff are already seeing practical benefits, such as the roll-out of CO2 monitors to assess ventilation.”

The co-chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group Liz Saville Roberts MP wrote to Novus’ parent company, the LTE Group, over the summer request they address the UCU’s concerns and withdraw any action against the representatives.

Saville Roberts, MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said the 100 cross-parliamentary members of her group had been “shocked to learn about this increasingly bitter dispute”.

Novus previously said its relationship with the UCU had declined after it refused to implement health and safety procedure changes without the agreement of Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and after it claimed it was given less than 24 hours to assess the impact of the changes.

The prison education provider also claimed UCU’s representatives had used bullying and intimidating behaviour during the dispute, and also made “false allegations” about Novus and the LTE board.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said today that Covid had “brutally exposed the many health and safety failings within the prison estate” and through “unprecedented strike action our members have made prisons safer for both learners and teachers”.

A Novus spokesperson said: “Following constructive discussions between the Novus and LTE Group senior team and UCU representatives via ACAS, we are pleased that this dispute has been resolved.

“Our priority continues to be the health, safety and wellbeing of our colleagues, and we will continue to work closely with UCU and all our union representatives.”

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