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Prison officers in Brussels to strike over understaffing

Illustration picture shows the prison of Saint-Gilles - Sint-Gillis, part of the Brussels Capital Region, Monday 13 July 2020. (BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE)
06:05 06/04/2021

A joint union strike action notice has been filed for the prisons of Forest, Saint-Gilles and Berkendael, Grégory Wallez, federal secretary of the CGSP Prison union, has announced.

The reason for the planned strike is the lack of new prison staff, a dearth in numbers which is putting increased working pressures on those in the service. The strike will begin on Thursday at 22.00 and will last for a period of 24 hours.

Several strikes over understaffing already took place last October in prisons in Brussels and elsewhere.

"There are significant recruitment problems, and the officers are exhausted,” Wallez said. “The functioning of prisons is in jeopardy."

"There are officers who retire, others who resign and there are all those who are quarantined because of the pandemic and who are therefore non-operational for a while... We have the impression that solutions cannot be found quickly," he added.

Despite this new strike notice, a consultation meeting with the administration is scheduled for next week.

Meanwhile, large parts of the prison in Saint-Gilles have been protected as areas of historical heritage by the Brussels government. The prison, which will be empty in a few years' time when all its prisoners are transferred to a new facility in the Brussels municipality of Haren, will form part of a new, green city district planned by the capital’s authorities.

"The prison has an important heritage value, so we want to protect parts of it", said state secretary for urban planning and heritage, Pascal Smet.

"The heritage status concerns, among other things, the watchtowers, a piece of the wall, the gardens and a cell wing. In this way, we want to develop a new urban project in a few years' time that considers the past."

Smet added: "The prison is owned by the federal government, so we sent them a letter proposing that we consult with each other. The Brussels-Capital Region would like to become the owner of the site to build a new city district. As far as we are concerned, this should become a green district with many gardens and meeting areas. With a lot of space for the people, literally and figuratively."

Written by Nick Amies