Prison staff to strike from 1 April after talks with Justice minister break down

Unions representing prison staff in Belgium have announced a strike after consultations with Justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt on Thursday. The strike in Belgian prisons will begin at 22.00 on Monday 1 April and will be open-ended, according to the unions.

Consultations between the unions and Van Tigchelt took place on Thursday morning, but the unions left the negotiating table when the minister said he would demand minimum services, said Eddy De Smedt of the liberal VSOA union.

"The minister burnt the bridges," De Smedt said after the talks. According to the unions, the measures are not enough to tackle the continuing problem of overcrowding in Belgian prisons. Van Tigchelt has been under fire since the days-long torture of an inmate in Antwerp prison by his cellmates almost two weeks ago.

"We demanded that the safety of staff and inmates be guaranteed at all times, even during a strike," said Van Tigchelt's staff. "The prison is not a place to be left unguarded, so the minimum services are needed."

After the hearing, the Justice minister's office said it understood the staff's concerns. Measures have been taken to reduce the prison population and additional measures were proposed at the consultation to further reduce the prison population so that there would be no more people sleeping on floors in prisons.



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