Another strike in the prisons: Van Tigchelt is on a collision course with the prison guards

Another strike in the prisons: Van Tigchelt is on a collision course with the prison guards
Another strike in the prisons: Van Tigchelt is on a collision course with the prison guards
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Prison staff will stop work for an indefinite period from Monday at 10 p.m. — © fvv

For the first time, the prison guards’ unions are holding an indefinite strike. They denounce the overcrowding in prisons. The fact that Minister Van Tigchelt now wants to tighten the minimum services during strikes makes them even more nervous.

Since Monday evening at 10 p.m., prison staff have been on strike in all Belgian prisons. It is the umpteenth strike action by the unions in a short time. The guards have previously organized several strike actions to address overcrowding, staff shortages and aggression problems in Belgian prisons. For the first time, there will be a national strike of indefinite duration.

The reason for this is a canceled consultation between the unions and Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) last week. Things went completely wrong there when the minister tabled the minimum service during strikes. Van Tigchelt wants to tighten this after the horrific torture of a detainee in the Antwerp prison in mid-March. At the time of those facts, a strike was also underway. According to the minister, the low occupancy rate was one of the reasons for the incident.

Today, prison staff can only be called to work after a 48-hour strike. But Van Tigchelt wants to make it possible to requisition guards from the very beginning. That proposal is causing bad blood among the unions. According to Robby De Kaey, trade union secretary of the ACOD, prison staff are “muzzled” in this way.

“For the minister, this has become a political game about minimum services”

Eddy De Smedt

Liberal trade union VSOA

The liberal trade union VSOA even speaks of “an open war” between the minister and the prison staff. “For the minister, this has become a political game about minimum services,” says Eddy De Smedt. According to the unions, the limited staffing was not the cause of the incident in the Antwerp prison. “The real problem here is the overcrowding of the prisons,” says De Smedt. “We demand a pause button for short sentences.”

More strikes

This is out of the question for the Minister of Justice. The implementation of short sentences is one of the most important achievements in the field of justice for Open VLD during the past legislature. Anyone sentenced to a prison sentence of three years or less must now actually go to prison. That was not the case before. Van Tigchelt emphasizes that he is mainly committed to expanding penitentiary leave to reduce the pressure on prisons. The number of detainees has already dropped from 12,316 to 12,055. But for De Smedt it is clear. “These measures are insufficient. As long as the real problem of overcrowding is not addressed, more strikes will continue.”

For the time being, it does not look like the conflict between Van Tigchelt and the unions will subside any time soon. It remains unclear how long the strike will last. The unions will meet again with the minister on Thursday. They will once again put their demands on the table. The question remains whether the water between the two parties will then be less deep.

The article is in Dutch

Belgium

Tags: strike prisons Van Tigchelt collision prison guards

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