Probation officers and criminal solicitors struck at the end of March, in a dual protest against the outsourcing of 70% of the probation service and a huge cut to the budget for legal aid.
Probation officers struck on 31 March, while solicitors struck for two days to 1 April.
Solicitors and barristers previously struck on 6 January and 7 March, massively disrupting the function of courts across the UK. The £215 million cuts to the legal aid budget will restrict barristers’ pay, and make it harder for anyone other than the rich to access top-quality legal representation or bring cases against powerful individuals or institutions. Criminal barristers reached a deal with the government on Thursday 27 March, and did not participate in the walkout.
The probation officers’ strike, organised by their union, the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO), aims to stop what workers and their union see as the near-total privatisation of their service. Speaking to Solidarity about the proposals in 2013, one probation worker said: “The proposals are not evidence-based; there is not a single shred of evidence to suggest the service will be more effective with a privatised, payment-by-results system. The probation service has in fact been successful in reducing re-offending rates year on year, so there is simply no reasonable argument to privatise. It’s purely ideological.
“In my office, many workers of all grades are no longer content with their position within the service, and many people are talking about leaving because they are sick of the constant threat of redundancy. I’ve spoken to plenty of workers over the last few years, and the same themes keep coming up: ‘We’re getting sold to Serco aren’t we?’ ‘I might just take redundancy and get another job somewhere else.’”
Ian Lawrence, NAPO general secretary, said: “The government plan to outsource 70% of the probation service is untried and untested.
“It is a dangerous social experiment that we believe will lead to a reduction in rehabilitation and fragment risk management, placing the public at risk. These reforms are ideologically driven and being pushed by a political timetable.”
Solicitor Matt Foot said: “This is the first time in history when solicitors, barristers and probation officers have taken joint action not to work the courts.
“All but the rich will suffer because of these cuts — which is why we are united and determined to stop [justice minister] Grayling.”