A deal that would see an extra £50m invested in prison officer pay hangs in the balance after union members demanded further negotiations with the government.
Justice secretary Jack Straw said earlier this year the extra cash would be available from April 2009 if management and the Prison Officers Association (POA) could thrash out an agreement on workforce modernisation.
The reform proposals include a new job evaluation system, training and development and revamping ways of working in prisons. But POA members at a special conference held on 2 December told the union's executive more details were needed before they could back the deal.
If no agreement is reached, then the government could withdraw the £50m on offer and next year's pay deal would be decided by the Prison Service Pay Review Body. However, the POA has complained that body lacks independence and officers' pay has fallen behind similar professions, such as the police. Prison officers received a 2.2% increase this year.
Prison Service HR director Robin Wilkinson told Personnel Today he remained hopeful.
"Whether we can do a deal on workforce modernisation is down to whether the POA thinks there is enough in it," he said. "Do I think there is enough on the table? Yes I do. Are the expectations of the union above that? Only time will tell."
Brian Caton, POA general secretary, said the government would be "foolhardy" to withdraw the cash.
"It wouldn't take much to push officers over the edge," he warned. Members were already angry at this year's pay deal and did not trust Prison Service managers, Caton added.