Dear ladies and gentlemen,
Dear members and colleagues,
During the last trade council session Justice which took place in September last year in Brussels, the members from different European countries discussed the problems which they are faced with in their sector. As far as prisons are concerned, it became clear that governments of European countries, looking for ways to reduce public expenditure, also include prisons as a possible target of austerity measures, even in spite of the pressure this puts on the quality of the prisons service and the crucial role to be played by national prison systems in safeguarding the country’s national security. In order to deal with overcrowding, new prisons are built and more and more countries set up public-private partnerships to finance the construction of those projects, thus making room for private enterprise to enter into the prison system. The aim of private enterprise however differs substantially from the aim of public services. On the one hand, the search for making profits, on the other hand, the objective of serving the public. We as Eurofedop believe that prisons are not for profit. The core aim of the prison system, which is to execute sentences passed by Courts of Justice, cannot and must not be left to private enterprise and should be strictly supervised by the State.
Another important element raised at the trade council session, was the increasing occurrence of violence in prisons. Prisoner on staff assaults, prisoner on prisoner assaults, sexual assaults, self-harm, there is a direct link between the occurrence of violence in prisons and the conditions under which prisoners have to live and stay in prisons. The idea of locking up prisoners, only for the purpose of turning the key, without giving any consideration to the rehabilitation of prisoners, belongs to the past and the task of prison staff not only to guard prisoners but also to treat them with the respect they deserve as human beings is not facilitated when the decency of living conditions in prisons is not assured.
In the course of the trade council, your secretary general, John Clinton, was elected president to the trade council Justice. Together with him, and with our colleagues from a great number of countries in Europe, we will defend your rights to the best of our abilities at European level.
John also took part in the Eurofedop delegation which performed a working visit to Hungary where we met potential member organisations from the sectors of health services and prisons. We visited Budapest prison, which is the largest of the country. We understood from this visit that their situation is comparable to other European countries and that overcrowding is also a problem they are faced with in Hungary. Currently, they are in a test phase of studying the possibility of avoiding the costly transport of prisoners to courts by introducing new technologies namely web cams into the judicial process. Moreover, they wish to get away from their old infrastructure, but this is very uncertain considering the difficult times we are living in today. A task of the prison service in which they score well, is to help prisoners find a job within and outside prisons.
We at Eurofedop also wish to promote bilateral contacts between our member organisations and, in this respect, we welcome the good cooperation relations which exist between your trade union organisation and the Prison Officers’ Association of the United Kingdom. An important Irish delegation took part in the action set up by our colleagues from the United Kingdom on 19th March last in the heart of London. We marched from Trafalgar Square to Westminster where the POA from the United Kingdom launched its campaign to lobby Parliament and influence the political parties so that due account would be taken of the wishes and needs of the prison service and prison staff with a view to the general elections which will be held in the UK next year in May. That campaign will focus on four demands: adequate pay, measures against violence in prisons, stop the privatisation of prisons and 68 is too late a year for prison staff to retire. Your secretary general also held a speech in support of the campaign, to express the solidarity of the Trade Council Justice. Especially the reference he made to the choice made by Ireland for collective bargaining and his belief in the value of trade union membership have been noticed.
Finally, I would like to say a word about the seminar which we as Eurofedop will organise next October in Edinburgh, Scotland. The subject will be mobility and migration in public services and if the introduction of nationals from other EU countries will contribute to improving the service to the public. In some countries of the EU, there is fear that, due to the right of every EU citizen to live and settle wherever they want on the European Union’s territory, this will put too much pressure on national social security systems and we hope to find out during the seminar if this fear is justified and, so, if we should support actions to be taken against migration abuses or, on the other hand, if we as European trade union federation support the free movement principle and believe that the outcome will be a net gain for all parties involved.
I thank you for your attention.
Bert Van Caelenberg