Steve Gillan, the general secretary of the UK-based Prison Officers Association (POA), said its 35,000 members should protest outside their workplaces ‘until instructed otherwise’, theguardian.com reported.
The 7:00 a.m. call came less than a day after the chief inspector of prisons, Peter Clarke, took emergency action over dire conditions at HMP Bedford, a Category B men's prison, located in the Harpur area of Bedford in Bedfordshire, England.
Bedford is the fourth prison to be subject to the urgent notification protocol after Exeter, Nottingham and Birmingham, which was temporarily taken from its private operator, G4S, and returned to state control.
The POA said its members were facing ‘unprecedented levels of violence’ in a crisis it blamed on government cuts.
Gillan accused ministers of “paying lip service to the health and safety of my members” and breaking safety commitments to prison staff.
He added, “We will now be demanding that the government provide safe prisons, meet our demands to improve personal protective equipment [and] reduce levels of violence and overcrowding as set out by Lord Justice Woolf in his report into the riots of 1990.”
Gillan stated officers had the right to walk out under health and safety legislation.
He said, “Under legislation the government and employer have a duty of care toward my members, and I’m fed up of hearing of my members receiving smashed eye sockets, broken arms, broken legs, broken jaws, being attacked and spat on, and enough is enough now.
“We need ministers to start taking control of what’s going on.”
Clarke invoked the urgent notification protocol for Bedford prison after inspectors found high levels of violence and inexperienced staff struggling to maintain control.
He said standards had been declining unchecked for nine years.
The protocol requires the justice secretary, David Gauke, to draw up an action plan for Bedford within 28 days to turn the prison around.
The prisons minister, Rory Stewart, has yet to comment on the POA walkout.
On Thursday he said, “Bedford prison faces serious challenges. We placed it in special measures before the inspection was conducted and we are bringing in senior experienced managers.
“Our focus will be on reducing violence and drugs along with supporting our prison officers to turn Bedford around. It is abundantly clear that further action is needed. I am grateful to the chief inspector for his work.”