PRISONS officers ended a series of protest meetings this afternoon after the government declared their walkout unlawful and threatened court action to end the dispute.
The officers started unannounced protest meetings at 7am against Government plans to link their normal pension age to the state pension age.
Members of the Prison Officers Association (POA) were taking limited action at the majority of jails, prison sources said.
Michael Spurr, chief executive of the National Offender Management Service (Noms), said: “I am extremely disappointed that the POA has taken this unlawful action.
“We have implemented our contingency plans, and our priority is to protect the public and ensure that prisons remain safe and secure.
“In 2007, the POA agreed that the normal pension age for new prison officers would be 65, in line with all other civil servants.
“The Government has been in constructive discussions with the POA about further pension reform and it is deeply regrettable that this action has been taken now.”
This afternoon the POA said more than 80% of its members supported the walkout and the action “had been a great success in raising the public’s awareness to the inherent dangers that the coalition Government’s policy change will bring to the Prison Service in the future.”
The row was fuelled by ministers making clear in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech that they are pressing ahead with their controversial reforms.
It coincided with a series of strikes by public sector workers. In Leeds, about 200 attended a rally in Millennium square.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude described the strike as “futile” and insisted that talks over pensions will not be reopened.
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said early signs from picket lines showed solid support for the strike, the third major walkout by public sector employees in the past six months in protest at the pension reforms.
Recorded messages on HM Revenue and Customs phones were advising people to call back another day, and there were reports of government offices and jobcentres being closed, said the PCS.
A spokesman said there was “very strong” support among Border Agency staff at all ports and airports, while in London, 999 call staff and community support workers were out in big numbers.
“Investigators from the Serious Organised Crime Agency are also showing strong support because they are keen to show their solidarity for police colleagues marching today,” said an official.
Passengers arriving at Gatwick Airport were warned they may experience some delays at immigration, but a Border Force spokesman said a “trained pool of contingency staff” were being used to minimise disruption.
“Thanks to our preparations, delays are being kept to a minimum and we will continue to deploy staff to manage peak arrivals during the day,” he said.
Mr Maude said: “It is very disappointing that a handful of unions insist on carrying on with futile strike action which will benefit no one.
“We would urge these union leaders to reconsider their position. Pension talks will not be reopened and nothing further will be achieved through strike action.”
Mr Maude said later: “The dedicated majority of public sector workers are working normally today and rigorous contingency plans are ensuring that nearly all key public services remain open as usual.
“We can now confirm that far fewer civil servants are on strike than in November - with around 100,000 taking part - down from 146,000 last year. This is dramatically lower than union claims.”