The Ministry of Justice and trade unions representing prison guards have been negotiating for 7 months over issues affecting prisons. Already, an agreement was reached regarding protocol 351 aimed at preventing spontaneous actions in prisons. Minister Geens’s suggestion that there should be a minimum service during strikes provoked tension with the unions however. “The entire consultation is at risk,” stated Filip Dudal from CSC Services publics (a trade union). “We may even take action,” added Gino Hoppe from the Flemish-speaking wing of CGSP (a union). Unions and authorities had already agreed on protocol 351. A handbook was composed to limit spontaneous strike actions as much as possible. Amongst other things it provides that a 10-day consultation must take place and authorities must then be given 30 days to take necessary measures in case a problem arises. “We had agreed we could go on strike after 40 days. The handbook proved to work well already after issues arose in Ghent and Hasselt prisons,” explained Filip Dudal.
The government is now requesting that a minimum service be in place in case of strike action. “This is unacceptable. Bonuses would be given to staff voluntarily deciding to go back to work. This completely undermines the right to strike which dates back to the times of Abbot Daens (a Flemish priest who fought for workers’ rights in the second half of the 19th century, editor’s note),” added Mr. Dudal, who fears for the rest of the negotiations within other task forces. “The whole process is at risk.”
Gino Hoppe from the Socialist movement also believes the whole social consultation may be threatened. “This is unacceptable. We have been working constructively for 7 months. But today, I cannot rule out new action.”