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June 2012 | 14.06.2012
Conference has now come and gone and the mandates will be progressed by the National Executive Committee on behalf of the POA membership.
The POA is becoming extremely diverse in the areas that we work in and we need to ensure that the representation is equal in all areas. With the Coalition Government intent on using a competition policy under the guise of obtaining quality and cost effectiveness the Union needs to be aware that this could mean further public sector prisons being contracted to the private sector.
Whilst the principled values of this Union will not alter that, we believe in public sector prisons and we must face reality that for the foreseeable future this policy of competition is not going to alter even under a different Government regime, after all, Labour was no different in its approach to market testing.
As a member of this Union it does not matter where you work - what matters is that the POA is better equipped to look after its members interests in representation and that is why we need to look at our internal structures to ensure that is going to happen and to make us the Union of choice within the areas where we recruit and organise.
I was pleased to be one the key negotiators in obtaining voluntary recognition rights at HMP Oakwood with G4S. Some members may raise an eyebrow given my previous statements on the privatisation agenda. My fundamental objection remains the same; however my argument is not with G4S, SERCO, or indeed Sodexo or any other private company for that matter. Our argument remains with the policy makers which is the Government of the day. I have told all the private companies that the POA wants to represent workers within penal establishments, as that is our role as the biggest union within the Criminal Justice System and they have nothing to fear from the POA as long as they treat their workers and our members with respect and dignity. I now look forward to putting the correct structures in place with the POA to ensure our continued growth so that we can ensure the very best of representation for all members irrespective of where they work.
Opposition to the competition process
Our opposition to the competition process remains. The partnership arrangement with NOMS and MITIE brings concern as to how our members within the Operational Support Grades are being treated. The POA used to boast that 98 percent of unified grades in prisons were POA members. That may have been the case in the 1970s and 1980s and even perhaps the 1990s but it certainly is not the case today. A more realistic density for our Union in the prison service is about 82 percent. That is in itself pretty impressive but we also need to improve to give adequate protection.
If each grade was broken down then the density may be higher in certain grades but in the Operational Support Grades with around 7,000 who are currently employed by NOMS I would suggest that the density is between 50 and 60 percent. I would urge local branch officials to map their establishments and recruit those OSGs who are not currently members, and I would urge those OSGs to join the POA in order for us to protect your interests.
For that matter I would encourage all non-members where ever they work to join the Union and protect your interests because if you think things are difficult now then I am afraid things could get even rockier whilst austerity measures are in place. Every day seems to bring a new challenge for the POA and its membership and the attack on ordinary workers in this country. Protecting your interests is vital and the way you do that is to join the POA family.
A mature Trade Union
It was the National Chairman Peter McParlin’s first Conference as your Chairman and I thought his key messages were vital regarding facility time, Fair and Sustainable and the strategic choices that the POA had to make in order to protect its membership. I also thought he chaired the Conference with humour, fairness and authority. The business was concluded on behalf of the membership in a timely manner.
The professionalism and quality of debate particularly on some of the big challenges ahead, for example on pension age, and competition policy was excellent. Some delegates had to deliver messages that may not have been popular but that is showing maturity as a Trade Union and also honesty as to what can be achieved by certain branches. I welcome the open debates at Conference and branches should never be afraid to come to the rostrum and deliver their speeches in an open and honest manner even if it is not what others wish to hear.
That is democracy speaking on issues where your branch has mandated you to do so. Perhaps if politicians behaved in the rules of debate and represented the views of their constituents then this country would be far more representative. Maybe the politicians could learn something from the openness of the POA Conference.
Honorary Life Members
It was also good to see our Honorary Life members and they are always welcome at the POA Conference. The Honorary Life Members dinner gives the current NEC a chance to say our thanks to individuals who have played significant roles in this Trade Union. I will not single out any individual Honorary Life Members for praise because they have all played significant parts in our history and I sometimes wonder if we should be using their wealth of experience to help out our younger members.
It was wonderful to see them all and I think they all recognise these are difficult and testing times for everybody. That is not to say that we have not had testing and challenging times in the past but I think most people recognise this is something a lot different and will continue to challenge every trade union for some years to come.
Together we will succeed
Conference is always a time to reflect and determine whether this Union is on the correct path and delegates on behalf of the members are given that opportunity to inform the National Executive Committee. I believe there is solidarity about this POA. Everyone is pulling in the same direction and I believe we will come out the other side stronger for the unity that we have.
There will be difficult decisions that have to be made along the way. Difficult decisions that you, the membership, have elected the NEC to make whilst Conference is not sitting. I believe this is a good National Executive Committee with a committed Chairman and General Secretary who are not afraid to make difficult decisions to protect the membership. Together we will succeed.