SCOTTISH prison custody officers are today launching a strike ballot over pay - in the wake of concerns over their safety.

The industrial action ballot of Prisoner Custody Officers (PCOs) in GeoAmey gets underway today (Monday 13 January) over a "pay imposition" which will result in staff receiving less than £10 an hour for the next two years.

Members of GMB Scotland are being asked to vote on whether to take industrial action against pay arrangements that will see many PCO’s paid just £9.60 and £9.85 an hour on the basic rate for 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The dispute comes against a backdrop of what the GMB describe as "increasing safety concerns and challenges in the working environment" and the ballot will run until Friday 24 January, with industrial action potentially taking place as soon as mid- February.

In February, last year, it was reported that violent criminals are being transported around the country in ordinary unsecured cars.

A female prison officer was reportedly suspended after she raised concerns about the practice.

GEOAmey, who took over the £238million prisoner escort contract last month, were accused of putting public safety at risk.

GEOAmey spokesperson said at the time: “We use a range of cellular and non-cellular vehicles, including mini-buses and cars.

“Each journey and the allocation of an appropriate vehicle is determined after a thorough risk assessment.”

In June notorious killer Steven Jackson was convicted of attacking an escort officer in a family car as he was being transferred to another jail.

Jackson, who was locked up for 26 years for beating and stabbing to death Kimberley MacKenzie in 2017, was sentenced to a further 18 months for the attack which took place in October, 2018.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard how Jackson punched a prison custody officer (PCO) on the head as she drove at 60mph on the A90 Aberdeen to Fraserburgh road.

She was one of three PCOs in a Citroen Picasso in October when the murderer attacked the driver near the Toll of Birness.

GMB Scotland Organiser Karen Leonard said: "PCOs act as a human shield between prisoners and the public but they are paid an absolute pittance for this vital public service.

"Their working environment brings challenges on a daily basis that the vast majority of us simply couldn't handle, yet the vast majority are paid less than £10 an hour for this.

"The overall management of the court custody and prisoner escort contract has long been a source of concern and controversy and now workers are saying, "Enough is enough".

"GeoAmey’s claims that safety and security, continuous improvement, and respect and fairness are their principles - clearly this doesn’t apply to their PCOs.

"If the employer wants to avoid a damaging industrial action then they need to get around the table with GMB and negotiate a vastly improved pay deal for their long suffering employees."

Leicester-based GeoAmey was the only bidder for Scotland's £238 million eight-year prisoner escort contract and took over from G4S in January, last year. It is understood G4S and Serco pulled out over fears the contract would not be profitable enough.

G4S previously used cars to transport prisoners and GeoAmey has continued the practice, despite concerns raised by politicians and trade union GMB.

A spokesperson for the prison service said: "The safety and wellbeing of the staff, of those being transported as well as the general public is of paramount importance to both the Scottish Prison Service and the Scottish Government. Issues relating to pay and conditions are a matter for the contractor, GeoAmey, and their trade union partner."