General Secretary

October 2011 | 25.10.2011

CIVIL UNREST AND RIOTS

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The civil unrest and riots that we witnessed in August across our towns and cities frightened the general public and shook the Coalition Government to the core. It made me realise once again, how professional the POA membership are as a front line emergency service.

The Government now needs to assess the cuts to the Criminal Justice System. The prison population soared as rioters were arrested, charged and dealt with by the courts in record time, both in magistrates and crown courts. It could set a precedent on how the courts are expected to work in the future.

POA members up and down the country met the challenge head on with the minimum of fuss even though we have a Coalition Government treating them appallingly. The reward for acting so professionally and with great dedication at a time of crisis in protecting the general public - along with the police, ambulance workers, fire fighters and court staff has not made one cabinet member in this Coalition Government admit that perhaps they are making a mistake with the imposed cuts to front line services.

They unashamedly attempt to justify the cuts, the pay freezes and pension attacks on public sector workers. While our cities burned and were being looted, amazingly, the most senior politicians were on holiday at the same time. I think it is reasonable that everyone should take annual leave for recuperating and recharging the batteries, however, it is totally unreasonable to have them all off on holiday at the same time. It would not happen in any other industry where senior managers would take their holidays at the same time. Politicians are very quick to judge public sector workers and tamper with their pay, pensions, and other terms and conditions so perhaps it is time the British public scrutinised them and called for reform. The House of Commons seems to be shut more often than it is open. Is it any wonder the country is in disarray economically and socially?

The POA will continue with other unions and our colleagues in the Criminal Justice System to point out the folly of the cuts. We need to keep the momentum going and I repeat again, every member of the POA should be writing to their Member of Parliament seeking their support into forcing a U-turn on the cuts agenda.

NOMS Bonuses

POA members will have seen the annual accounts produced by the National Off ender Management Services. On page 24, the salaries and bonuses have been revealed. At a time when POA members are worrying about job security with a competition policy that is geared to driving pay and terms and conditions down and are struggling with high inflation, with the vast majority of the membership subjected to a two year pay freeze, along with increased fuel costs, food, and the prospect of paying more in contributions for their pensions it is insensitive and obscene to see that bonuses for those at the top ranged from £5,000 to £15,000. The POA membership quite rightly will see this as rubbing their noses in it. Individuals who need it least are prospering. The bankers with their noses in the trough was bad enough but the bosses of our public sector prisons is a sore one to take. I would assume the bonuses are performance related. I would like to remind them that they failed to keep HMP Birmingham in the public sector. Rewarding failure is wrong but I don’t suppose there will be any sleepless nights. The bonuses are unjustified for individuals who are already earning salaries that the POA membership can only dream about. I have no problem with individuals earning a salary at the going rate for the responsibility that they have but that is where it should end. The board should hand back their bonuses and the Government should ensure that they do not get any more. The bonus culture should be a thing of the past.

New Entrant Prison Officers basic salary is £15,000 before any additions, yet some individuals have received what they earn in a year in a bonus. I think the board have struggled to justify this bonus and the ridiculous explanation by the Ministry of Justice did not hold water in the press, in fact, to state they were not as well paid as the private sector to justify bonuses is laughable and will bring no comfort to the POA membership. I sincerely hope when it comes to the pay review body submissions the same people who got such hefty bonuses do not belittle the POA membership.

Trade Union Congress and Political Party Conferences

The month of September and beginning of October are extremely busy months for the Union in respect of conferences. The TUC conference began on 12 September 2011 and the POA delegation moved two motions. The venue was Congress House and the event was televised. Obviously by the time the magazine is circulated in October 2011 this important event will have come and gone as will the party political conferences. However, it is important to point out that the POA will be in attendance and taking part in fringe meetings at the Liberal Democrat’s Conference in Birmingham, the Labour Conference in Liverpool and finally, the Conservative Conference in Manchester. The fringe meetings have been set up by the New Statesman magazine and key speakers from the main political parties have been secured. I will be on the panel for the Liberal Democrat Conference which features Lord McNally, and I will share a platform with the shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, at the Labour Party Conference and the National Chairman will share a platform at the Conservative Party Conference with Kenneth Clarke.

Trade Union Laws

Trade union rights (of which the POA knows a lot about after being deprived for so long) are also under threat from further erosion. All over Europe, workers’ rights are being lost to the neo- liberal policies pursued by Governments and business. Take the workers in Greece, Spain and Ireland - they are all fighting to defend collective agreements and other wage fixing machinery from erosion. In this country there is pressure to undermine the limited rights available in a country that has some of the weakest labour laws in Europe. Some of the proposed new restrictions include an increase in the qualifying period for unfair dismissal at employment tribunals so that workers must be employed for at least two years before they can bring a claim, and a decrease in the time an employer has to consult before making workers redundant.

This potential for further erosion will mean it will be easier to hire and fire individuals and workers will be totally expendable commodities. Obviously the POA does not have the right to strike but there is strong rumour that the Coalition Government is seriously considering toughening the strike laws by introducing tougher balloting laws, making all strikes illegal unless supported by 50 percent of those eligible to vote. If that proposal ever came to fruition perhaps they could apply the same to politicians because if that was applied, hardly any of them would ever be elected.

Threat after threat after threat but it could be so different. If only Governments saw Unions as part of the solution rather than the enemy then Britain could flourish. I do not just aim that remark at the Coalition Government but also the last Labour Government because they did nothing to repeal the anti- trade union laws that came in during the Thatcher era so I can only assume politicians of all parties hold the trade union movement in contempt.

Trade Unions can be part of the solution to the economic crisis. In Germany, it could be argued that their economy is keeping Europe afloat. This is a country that has economic growth and has not followed Britain in the path of anti-trade union legislation. Instead, the German Government accepts and works with the unions and accepts their legitimacy. As a result, two out of every three workers in Germany are covered by a collective agreement. In Britain before the 1980s, 82 percent of workers were protected by a collective agreement. That has now fallen to 32 percent. Quite clearly, if British politicians woke up instead of restricting workers and attempting to batter them into submission with failed policies our economy could thrive.

Trade Unions have a role to play with comprehensive collective bargaining as this will raise wages, equalise incomes, stimulate money circulation, increase demand and promote job growth. Only then will our economy flourish to allow the deficit to be repaid along with a fair taxation system that stops tax avoidance and evasion. It is time for politicians to wake up and stop seeing trade unions as the enemy. For too long all Governments - whatever political persuasion - have treated POA members with disrespect and abused our human rights in respect of trade union rights and the basic fundamental right to take legitimate action to protect and promote the memberships interest.

Instead of collective bargaining they have promoted collective begging since 1994 and our application to the European Courts is the correct one in the absence of adequate compensatory measures for resolving pay and industrial disputes. The application could take some time to be heard but as we have waited 17 years a few more are not going to make any difference and I was determined when I took over as General Secretary in 2010 that the application was important as the membership have waited to long for a variety of different reasons to get it heard in a European Court. Finally the application has been lodged with Strasbourg.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary