No Contract, No Status

Last year a benchmarking report was published here at Wakefield which, staff have told me, stated that there should be a maximum of six cleaners per wing. At the time each wing had approximately thirty workers and it was decided that this would have to decrease. However shortly after this decision was made, all went quiet and nothing changed for some time. Then, out of nowhere and with no warning, the cleaners were called into the wing office one by one and told that they were being reallocated to one of the workshops.

The true reason for this still hasn’t been revealed. Some say that it is to save money which was being spent on paying workers who were not producing anything of profit. Others reckon it was a security issue revolving around the ever decreasing number of staff available to supervise. Whatever it was, the effect was the same; a staggering number of prisoners lost their jobs without any notice.

In the weeks that followed it came to light that the reason all had gone quiet for so long was because the wing staff had been told to discuss the necessary cuts with the wing cleaners, taking volunteers for reallocation first, and then considering all relevant factors when deciding who else needed to be moved. But none of that happened.

In fact, the whole exercise was conducted so randomly that prisoners who were medically certified as being unable to climb stairs were allocated to second floor workshops, cleaners who had only just been given a wing job lost it again, and some cleaners who work only in specific areas (such as servery workers) were sacked, leaving the servery short of staff so that they had to re-advertise the job.

One of my friends had been a cleaner for years when he was made a wing painter instead (which carries the same employment status). Just four weeks later he was reallocated to the sewing workshop. He complained but initially he was told that he wasn’t actually classed as an employee, or even a worker anyway, and no prisoner is. At least, not in legal terms. We have no contracts, so we are entitled to no standard employment rights. Still he challenged it, along with many others, but whilst most of them failed to get wing jobs back, my friend succeeded. However, this was not so much because that was the right thing to do, or because he was in the right (though it was and he is). Actually it was more to do with the new shortage of servery workers. Instead of giving him his position as a painter back, or even putting him back to his prior job of cleaner, they simply made him a servery worker, getting him back out of the workshop (and shutting him up) whilst simultaneously leaving the previous servery worker out of a job and fobbing off everyone else with a complaint. And all because the wing staff didn’t want to talk to the cleaners about it when they were told to.

Sometimes this place really is a shambles.

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