Despite a strike, the 12,000 detainees in our country can still shower, and they owe that to the provincial governors

Despite a strike, the 12,000 detainees in our country can still shower, and they owe that to the provincial governors
Despite a strike, the 12,000 detainees in our country can still shower, and they owe that to the provincial governors
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A hot meal in the cell every day and an hour’s walk every day in the prison courtyard. Being able to call home and meeting your family or lawyer in the visiting room at least once a week. And being able to shower twice a week or see a doctor in an emergency. These are six of the minimum basic rights of every detainee in a Belgian prison. In practice, this proves to be more than a challenge with more than twelve thousand detainees, appalling living conditions and striking staff.

“Art and flying”

An indefinite strike, supported by all prisoner unions, puts complete pressure on the system. “It is a piece of cake,” admits Robby De Kaey, trade union secretary of the ACOD. The fact that they are striking “for an indefinite period” for the first time after the extended Easter weekend is a countermove after Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt (Open VLD) had advocated during the negotiations to significantly tighten the minimum services during strikes. In other words: Van Tigchelt wants to be able to order prison guards from minute one of the strike. Initially our own staff, but in extreme cases also agents. Today this can only stop after 48 hours.

“Our position remains unchanged”

Robby De Kaey

Trade union secretary

Trade unionist De Kaey and co. feel “muzzled” and do not want to budge. The unions will meet again with the minister on Thursday, but both parties appear to remain in their trenches for the time being. “Our position remains unchanged,” says De Kaey.

The prisoner unions are on an indefinite strike. — © BELGA

Risk suspension

Contradictory enough, this “indefinite strike” currently provides minimal services. On Tuesday morning, a first followed since the introduction of the law on penitentiary status (2019): governors in the country personally called in penitentiary officers. Each prison director had to indicate in the morning how many staff members were missing to meet the minimum requirements, after which the governors proceeded with the request. This is done via a personalized “claim document.” “Ignoring something like that is an impossible task,” says De Kaey. “Contractual employees risk suspension, statutory appointees risk administrative measures.”

Figures collected by the Prison Service on Tuesday evening show that 134 Flemish penitentiary officers were required to appear. Bruges in particular, with forty participants, takes the cake. Twenty police officers had to arrive in Brussels.

Striking: in the south of the country, the governors had to appoint barely four prison guards. There is therefore a big difference between Flanders and Wallonia in terms of the number of ‘ground sleepers’, detainees who have to sleep on the floor: 99 versus 4. A month ago the total was still 268.

To the minister

The minister’s office has heard that a more constructive consultation with the unions will hopefully follow on Thursday. Suspending the implementation of short sentences, a hobbyhorse of Van Tigchelt, remains undiscussed for the time being. Such a suspension would not solve all the problems surrounding overpopulation, it sounds. The unions remain primarily concerned with the minimum services that Van Tigchelt wants to tighten. In due course, a new royal decree must be issued. We hear from Tigchelt himself that he will have to defuse the conflict in the coming days. So far, other government parties have mainly ignored the situation.

The article is in Dutch

Tags: strike detainees country shower owe provincial governors

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