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Deal reached to end long running Covid safety dispute at 49 prisons

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A long running dispute between prison educators at 49 prisons in England and employer Novus has ended after the employer agreed to the University and College Union’s (UCU) demands to address health & safety concerns raised by prison educators. 

Around 600 prison educators took four days of strike action between April and June 2021 after Covid safety concerns were not addressed. UCU said the deal means its members will now be much safer at work. Investigations Novus had taken out against union members who raised health & safety concerns have also been dropped.

The agreement, secured through 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. Regular meetings over safety concerns are taking place with meaningful engagement from Novus, and UCU welcomes this. Staff are already seeing practical benefits, such as the roll-out of CO2 monitors to assess ventilation. Novus will meet with UCU in December to review progress.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘Our prison educators have been steadfast in their determination to ensure their working conditions are safe. Covid brutally exposed the many health & safety failings within the prison estate and through unprecedented strike action across 49 prisons our members have made prisons safer for both learners and teachers.

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‘I want to personally congratulate every member who took industrial action and also thank Novus who have made important commitments on health and safety.’

UCU prison branch chair Brian Hamilton said: ‘At the end of this protracted dispute UCU members should be proud of their efforts and their willingness to engage in the industrial relations process in a positive solutions-based manner. This has resulted in an agreement that makes work safer and provides a model for collaborative working between staff and Novus.’

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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