General Secretary

December 2012 | 16.12.2012

2012 has been a year of challenges for the POA

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Without doubt, this year has been full of challenges for POA members up and down the country whether they work in the public sector, immigration, private sector or indeed our special hospitals.

Disgracefully, we have seen changes to pensions; an increase in contributions and more increases to come at a time when there is a public sector pay freeze. Government announcement on competition process

The decision in November 2012 to put public sector prisons into the hands of private companies is nothing short of a national scandal but one which seems to be accepted by all the major political parties without having a public debate. POA members at Lindholme, Moorland, Hatfield and Northumberland will be feeling betrayed by this Government. In one breath they are saying there is an opportunity for public sector prisons to make savings through competition benchmarking as this will realise savings quicker than the competition process itself. Yet it goes deeper than that in my estimation. Loyal public servants who took pride in working for a public service have been sold off by this Government like you would sell cattle at an auction. The National Executive Committee have made it clear time and time again, that the most important issue is the health and safety of our members, and neither profit nor budget cuts will be allowed to undermine that position.

Murder of Northern Ireland Prison Officer

The callous and cowardly murder of David Black, who worked at HMP Maghaberry brought home once again the dangers of being a prison officer in Northern Ireland - and indeed throughout the United Kingdom. The security of prison officers is paramount and Finlay Spratt, Area Chairman, has the full support of the POA in relation to protective equipment and making sure his members are safe from a small number of individuals who want to drag Northern Ireland back to the days of conflict.

There can be no going back, the people of Northern Ireland do not want it and those individuals responsible for this atrocity must be brought to justice as quickly as possible. It was correct that there was an out pouring of anger and condemnation at this cowardly attack from politicians but they now have a duty to protect prison staff in Northern Ireland. Where they are found wanting this Union will focus its attention.

Prison closures

POA members will be aware that there is a prison closure campaign and we have seen a variety of establishments close down. Some branches have mounted vigorous campaigns on the closures and highlighted the knock on effect for the surrounding communities and the economy and loss of jobs in those areas. At a time when we are in the grips of a recession it does not make any economic sense, nor does it make any sense when the prison population is at a steady 86,000 and showing no real signs of falling, meaning that closure programmes put pressure on the rest of the service. I accept that new accommodation has come on stream but there can be no denying that the majority of our prisons are vastly overcrowded.

In Northern Ireland the situation is no different where HMP Magilligan is under threat of closure which could destroy the local economy. A campaign has been started to keep Magilligan open and prison officers recently marched on Stormont to hand in a petition and speak to politicians. (See the full report on page 8 of this issue). This campaign has only just started and will continue, no doubt, throughout the coming months in 2013. Each establishment in England and Wales should be doing the same preparation and mounting campaigns if their establishment is identified as this issue is not going to go away for the foreseeable future.

March against austerity, 20 October 2012

I was pleased that many of our members took the opportunity to attend demonstrations in London, Belfast and Glasgow. We were surrounded by tens of thousands of people at Hyde Park in London and the strength of opposition to the Government’s damaging policies was evident to see. Thousands of trade union members and community groups stood shoulder to shoulder in these cities to demonstrate that there is an alternative to austerity. Public opinion is starting to turn and I expect that to increase into 2013 as unfortunately, there will be more damaging cuts to come from a Government which appears not to be listening - even when economic experts are telling them they need a growth strategy to stimulate the economy.

Credit Union

With rising fuel bills and our membership facing financial difficulties I am pleased that our Finance Officer, Pete Chapple, has managed to launch our credit union which will be beneficial to our members and keep those who are vulnerable away from exploitative money lenders. This is an excellent way of saving and indeed taking loans.

Attacks on our terms and conditions

The Cabinet Office has asked every civil service department to review all terms, conditions, policies and practices which is essentially all the things that POA members rely on to manage their working lives. A flavour of this review includes:

  • Working hours
  • Holiday entitlement
  • Sick pay
  • Attendance management
  • Relocation and redeployment
  • Part time hours and
  • Parental leave.

All the hard fought terms and conditions that have been won because no one gives them to us, is under review. There is no doubt that since 2010 we have been under the biggest attack (along with other public sector workers) in relation to employment rights and indeed terms and conditions. In order to protect ourselves going into 2013 and beyond we need a trade union that is focussed on the needs of our members up and down the country. There can be no place for side shows or issues that deflect the POA National Executive Committee from doing the job that it is elected to do, and that is represent the membership. We will need to be focussed as policies from Government are coming thick and fast and we cannot afford to be deflected from that by self-serving internal issues that do not promote and protect the membership. Strong characters and strong opinions are one thing but the most important people are the membership and that should never ever be forgotten.

Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme

At a time when compensation pay outs to prisoners were in excess of £3million this year; ranging from loss of property to slips trips and falls it is ironic that cuts to the CICA scheme have gone through the House of Commons in spite of opposition by the Labour Party and a campaign by unions and victims’ groups. The new scheme, which is effective from 27 November 2012, means:

  • Removes injuries in bands 1-5 (£1000-£2000)
  • Significantly reduces (by approximately half (the tariff s in bands 6-12)
  • Removes injuries caused by suicide or attempted suicide from scope
  • Includes a number of new rules which change eligibility criteria, including a requirement to report to the police.

These changes will have a significant impact on the working lives of POA members when they are injured or assaulted at work. Perhaps the Government needs to make savings from the victims of crime to pay out the £3 million to prisoners. I am sure that is not the case but that is what it will feel like to our members.

The POA, without a doubt, will face many challenges in 2013 and beyond, together we can come through these difficult and challenging times. I would like to thank each and every POA member who has supported this Trade Union up and down the country when asked to do so. Unity is strength should not be just words that are trotted out from time to time - it has to have real meaning.

There is no better Trade Union than the POA when we are united, let us be united and focussed going into 2013. I would like to wish all the membership, irrespective of where you work, a merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year going into 2013.

Steve Gillan
General Secretary