General Secretary

April 2018

HEALTH AND SAFETY

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COLLEAGUES, AS I WRITE THIS ARTICLE ON 8TH MARCH 2018, POA MEMBERS AT HMP LINDHOLME WALKED OUT AND REFUSED TO RETURN TO WORK IN THE DANGEROUS CIRCUMSTANCES THAT THEY REASONABLY BELIEVED TO BE IMMINENT AND SERIOUS.

As General Secretary, I instructed our lawyers that I believed that our members were protected by the Employment Rights Act 1996 Section 44(1) (d). This response was sent to government lawyers, who had been instructed by the Secretary of State to pursue by way of a letter before action to the Royal Courts of Justice unless the action was repudiated.

This individual action by POA members at HMP Lindholme was not industrial action but clear health and safety issues, so therefore, on behalf of the Union I declined to repudiate the action taken by our members.

It is ironic that after negotiations with the local committee; Terry Fullerton, Acting Vice- Chair, Joe Simpson, Assistant Secretary and the Governor, agreed a way forward that satisfied the branch, and at approximately 1800hrs, the safe unlocking commenced.

Now if this was not a health and safety issue, which fell under the protection of Section 44, why did the Prison Service concede certain issues, which were clear health and safety matters for the protection of staff and indeed, those in our care?

The regime management plan (RMP), which is an agreed document was not being adhered to placing both staff and prisoners at risk. The Governor rightly accepted that there is a need for training and that the RMP should be followed and no short cuts should be taken. After all, it is an agreed document. Other matters were agreed including tornado teams moving a large body of prisoners to other locations that very same evening.

A reasonable person may ask a simple question; that if the Prison Service agreed an outcome in relation to health and safety − why then, did the Secretary of State once again try and hide behind a draconian law that prohibits the POA from inducing industrial action under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, Section 127 (1994) since amended?

I am very aware that there is a permanent injunction against this Trade Union, but the facts remain that this Government and employer cannot continually hide behind this draconian legislation and cover up their gross negligence in the running of the Prison Service.

The Government caused the crisis by reducing the budget year-on-year since 2010, making the Prison Service more dangerous by having fewer staff and yet they continually boast that they are ahead of schedule in recruiting an additional 2,500 prison staff.

Save cuts to staffing levels

The fact remains that they took out more than 8,000 operational staff with their savage cuts and I am afraid they can continue to spin numbers, but there are fewer prison staff now than there were in 2010, with more prisoners in our care. The Government has created the crisis and overseen yearly increases on both assaults on prison officers and indeed, prisoner on prisoner.

There is no escaping those facts, no matter how many times the Ministry of Justice say they are on course for recruiting an additional 2,500 staff. I again challenge this Government and employer to work constructively with the POA to avoid these scenarios where our members feel they have to take action to protect their health and safety, and indeed the health and safety of prisoners.

No POA member ever wishes to take such action under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, but when they have a Government and employer who appear not to care about their welfare, then it becomes inevitable that such action under health and safety legislation will be taken.

I reiterate; I will not repudiate any action, irrespective of permanent injunctions, so long as it is a legitimate health and safety issue. I urge ministers and employer to stop hiding behind the courts to resolve the mess that they have created together. If going back to basics means anything, then work with the POA to create a safe environment at work for our members and your staff.

This could have been avoided

I commend our members at HMP Lindholme and the local committee at that establishment. I also thank our legal team whom I briefed at every opportunity. This could have been avoided had actions been taken earlier by those in charge, but it would appear regimes are more important to the leadership of HMPPS than the safety of their staff. I am afraid I have a different philosophy in that the health and safety of POA members, wherever they work, is far more important than any regime at all costs.

Assaults are getting more viscious

I would also wish a speedy recovery to our member who was on detached duty from the Verne, and was severely assaulted in an unprovoked attack by a prisoner. I would like to thank everyone at HMP Bedford and the hospital that treated him. The facts of this case are truly horrendous and but for an emergency operation to relieve pressure on our member’s brain, it could have been far worse for him and his family. My thoughts are with our member, who has now been released from hospital, and I pray that he makes a full and speedy recovery. There is no doubt that assaults on our members are getting more vicious and control needs to be taken back so that our jails are safer.

Secretary of State must engage more with the POA

The Secretary of State, David Gauke, made a speech recently which was organised by the Ministry of Justice and the Royal Society of Arts. Unfortunately, nobody invited the POA to the meeting. The largest Trade Union that represents prison staff not invited did not really make any sense.

If the Secretary of State means what he says in his speech, then he will need to engage more with the POA as we are not the problem but are part of the solution. Saying how respected prison staff are cuts no ice and nice words of comfort have a hollow feeling to them.

Pay the staff a decent wage with a retirement age that is reflective of the work our members do. The correct resources and investment to make our prisons safer. The opportunity to work with each other is there. We are ready and willing to engage but will not stand by and watch our members’ health and safety exploited in the name of budget cuts.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary

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