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June 2014 | 24.06.2014
The 75th Annual Conference took place at Southport from Tuesday 13 May 2014 until Thursday 15 May 2014.
As usual, delegates representing the membership from our branches across the United Kingdom presented themselves in a very professional manner setting out the policies for our Trade Union. Good, honest debate took place and our verbatim report can be found on the members’ section of the POA website so that the wider membership can fully understand how and why decisions were arrived at by Conference. (www.poauk.org.uk)
The backbone of this Union will always be built on democracy with the majority ruling and setting policy. There is no doubt these are difficult times and in difficult times you need leadership qualities. Conference and the National Executive Committee (NEC) demonstrated those qualities and the NEC will deliver that leadership for the membership with difficult decisions having been made in the best interests of the membership.
Unity is strength
Lay-led executive members and branch officials demonstrated that ‘unity is strength’ and attended Conference using their own annual leave, rest days and toil to represent the wider membership. Total dedication when facility time for Annual Conference was withdrawn as another attack on public sector trade unions was demonstrated by this Coalition Government. Extremely short-sighted by this Government, but not unexpected. Branch officials and executive members have shown that they will not be deterred by these barriers and neither should the wider membership.
The POA needs to remain strong and resolute as we have many challenges facing us from the austerity measures which affect our working lives and indeed our families. Individuals in Government talk up a recovery but a recovery for who? It is not a recovery for the vast majority of POA members and their families. Pay freezes and pay increases that do not keep pace with living costs. Increases to pension payments which place our members in financial difficulty.
The POA invited politicians of all parties to attend a “Question Time” panel which would have been chaired by Simon Israel from Channel Four News. Sadly, politicians from all the major parties declined to take part with the exception of the Shadow Justice Prisons Minister, Jenny Chapman. I will leave it up to our readers to determine the reasons why the Tories, Libs and UKIP declined such a debate in front of experienced POA delegates who know the Criminal Justice system, immigration system and secure hospitals inside out.
Jenny Chapman MP
Labour MP, Jenny Chapman, addressed our Conference on the Wednesday. She spoke about a vision, should Labour form the next Government. Her speech can be found in our verbatim report on our website and I encourage members to read what she said and my reply to her speech. Credit indeed goes to Jenny, and she was well received as she made no false promises like we have had in the past from politicians. Her speech was indeed refreshing and she does have prison experience having worked at both HMP Frankland and HMP Dartmoor in the past.
On the Thursday the Prisons Minister, Jeremy Wright MP, addressed Conference and then took limited questions from the floor. I have to be honest, and although we do not always see eye-to-eye with the Minister, some of his announcements were met with polite applause from our delegates. He announced that an offender who murders any prison officer will face a whole life sentence. Whilst this is welcomed let us pray that piece of legislation never has to be enacted going forward from this Conference.
He also stated that he is determined to tighten up on ROTL. This is to be welcomed because the high-profile reoffending when prisoners are placed in open conditions far too quickly and without adequate risk assessment, places the general public at risk and this has become an embarrassment. Further, he announced that he is in discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police regarding assaults on our members. He wants a system where offenders are prosecuted and if found guilty and consecutive sentences should be awarded. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the Minister in relation to violence against our members but actions speak louder than words. The proof will be demonstrated in the future by the authorities taking assaults on our members seriously. For decades this is something that has not been addressed properly by the relevant authorities and some of the assaults our members have had to endure is quite simply unacceptable.
The National Executive Committee has determined through our solicitors to launch a Judicial Review against the Crown Prosecution Service and the Ministry of Justice for failing to protect our members whilst at work. The Executive will keep the membership updated in relation to this important issue as our members are increasingly being used as punch bags and the perpetrators are walking free because of a reluctance to prosecute.
So while we welcome the approach from the Minister, and I repeat, I have no doubt he is indeed sincere about the protection of our members and, the general public we will give him a helping hand with our legal challenge.
68 is too late
This Conference also questioned the Minister on the subject of pension age. He knows the strength of feeling and with the help of the membership, the Executive will continue to campaign and take action until we obtain pension justice. That is what this Executive is mandated to do by the membership and that indeed is what we will pursue with vigour. There is no doubt in my mind this is one area of injustice that needs remedied as soon as possible. Expecting POA members to work to the age of 68 is illogical and dangerous to the health and safety of our members, and that is why it is imperative that our campaign continues for justice irrespective of how long it takes to reverse the decision on pension age.
POA gets stronger
The POA Conference and its theme “Stronger Together” demonstrated that this Union is very strong and will continue to get stronger. Our delegates demonstrated they are committed to the POA and we must ensure that we go forward together with one voice for the future to ensure we fight for justice not just for those POA members on the front line, but for their families and those individuals embarking on a new career and coming into the Criminal Justice System − whether that be a prison, immigration or indeed our secure hospitals. Together and only together we can achieve and be stronger coming out the other end.
POA General Secretary