Unite is calling for a radical overhaul in the manner prison maintenance work is undertaken following revelations that two workers at Liverpool Prison were wrongly dismissed for raising safety issues.
The workers, who had combined service of 45 years, were employed by private contractor Amey, which controversially took over the running of maintenance and other functions in 60 prisons in June 2015, as a result of the government’s move to privatise public services.
In July 2016 the workers became concerned that Amey’s changes to working practices, which meant that they were required to work alone in secure areas of the prison, was a danger to their safety. Having had a grievance rejected they spoke to the prison governor and said they were going to raise concerns with the Health and Safety Executive.
The governor immediately informed Amey and the workers were sacked for bringing the company into disrepute.
When the prison maintenance contracts were privatised Amey was awarded the contract for prisons in the north and midlands, while Carillion, which has gone into liquidation, won the contract for the rest of the country.
Both contracts are considered to be troubled with concerns about backlogs in urgent repairs, being a cause of increasing disorder and violence in prisons, which is directly putting the safety of prison staff in danger. Prior to its demise Carillion’s directors rescue strategy was based on the government providing a substantial financial boost to its prison contract.
Unite national officer for the prison service Jim Kennedy said,“This was a shameful way to treat longstanding workers who voiced immediate safety fears. Amey’s hamfisted response demonstrates they are unfit to operate such a sensitive and complex service.
“This case demonstrates the government’s folly of privatising this vitally important public service.
“Since taking over these contracts the private contractors have been fixated in cutting staff and other methods in order to boost profits,” he added. “This is having a significant impact on the safety of all workers in the prison system.
“It is morally repugnant that companies are making profits out of the prison service and these contracts need to be permanently brought back in house at the earliest opportunity.”