Catalan prisons besieged by public employees protesting over working conditions

Prison employee unions and the Catalan Government, which manages all prisons in Catalonia, have carried an arm wrestling over the past few weeks. Trade unions have been impeding access to some Catalan prisons on three occasions: in early December and this week. The Government claims these actions are illegal, represent a risk and refuses to negotiate under this threat. Unions are mainly protesting over salary cuts and a lack of human resources.


January 13, 2012 11:26 PM

Barcelona (ACN).- On Wednesday and on Friday, up to five prisons had their access blocked by their employees’ unions. They have mainly been protesting against the Catalan Government’s decision to reduce public salaries and not to substitute employees’ on leave, in order to reduce the public deficit. They are also complaining about their general working conditions. This Friday was the worst day, prison employees blocked road access to five prisons: Can Brians 1, Can Brians 2, Quatre Camins, Joves (for young prisoners) and Tarragona. With these actions, they have impeded the normal functioning of the prison, by not allowing shift changes. According to the Catalan Government, only 150 people were working in these prisons, when there should have been 500. This represents functioning with 30% of staff to control 5,500 prisoners. The Catalan Government considers these actions to be “illegal” and “represent a serious threat to security”. On Wednesday the Government asked the protests to stop as a condition to talk with the unions. Protests stopped and talks were carried out during Thursday. However, last night, an agreement had not been reached and on Friday morning prison employees protested. The Government announced it was indefinitely interrupting negotiations as protests failed to stop and “they were putting the life of people in danger”. The unions stated later that protests would not be organised during the weekend and they allowed the night shift access to the prisons. At Friday 10pm (CET), the Justice Department informed that the situation in the five prisons was back to normal.

These week’s protests are framed in a broader picture, which is that of public employee salary reductions in Catalonia and the need to cut the Catalan Government’s deficit. In Catalonia, the Catalan Government manages all prisons, as it is a devolved power. They proposed in late November to reduce the salary of all public employees, including those working in prisons, in order to reduce public spending in 2012 and meet the 1.3% deficit objective. The Government justified the measure in order not to further cut the budget on public services, as it did in 2011 in order to reduce public spending by 10% in only one year. Besides, in 2011, the Catalan Government also took the decision not to hire further employees, neither to substitute those on leave, again in order to reduce public spending and the public deficit. The measure foresaw some exceptions in basic services. However, prison employee unions complain that they are lacking human resources, and they are working in poorer conditions. For instance, in 2011 a new prison in Figueres had to open its doors, but despite being built it has been decided to postpone its opening in order to reduce costs. The Government has justified the decision in the need to reduce public spending and that the number of prisoners remains the same in the last two years.

A previous prison blocking

During the negotiations between the Government and public employee representatives that took place after the announcement of reducing public salaries in 2012, prison employee organised a protest in front of Barcelona’s main prison, the Model prison. On December 2nd they impeded access to the penitentiary and, after some hours, some prisoners began their own protest. In order not to avoid a worsening of the situation and risking having a riot in the prison, the Government decided the Catalan Police should intervene. The Catalan Police used force after having asked the demonstrators to stop the protest and free access to Model. Meanwhile, the Catalan Government considered the unions’ attitude illegal and an intolerable way to condition negotiations. Talks were suspended and started some days later.