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April 2016 | 01.04.2016
SHAPING OUR FUTURE
GENERAL SECRETARY, STEVE GILLAN REPORTS THAT PRISON OFFICERS CONTINUE TO BE UNDER ATTACK FROM ALL SIDES, BUT PLEDGES THAT ALL MEMBERS WILL BE SUPPORTED BY THE UNION.
Pay Review Body
As I write this article, the so-called Independent Pay Review Body has given its submission to Government and the Government has accepted it in full. The POA National Executive Committee was mandated by Conference 2015 not to give written or oral submissions, as the Review Body was considered to be a puppet of Government.
Once again, they have demonstrated that Conference was correct to treat them with the contempt that they deserve. (This is not an attack on the integrity of any individual who holds public appointment to this particular Pay Review Body.) The Review Body was set up for the remit group as a compensatory mechanism for not having the lawful right to take strike action.
The International Labour Organisation was clear that if a Government was to restrict prison officers having the right to strike, they must have independent mechanisms for resolving disputes at local and national level − along with independency in relation to pay determination.
The disputes procedure and mechanism for resolving pay must hold the confidence of both parties. All along, our position is that the selection of Pay Review Body does not hold our confidence. It goes without saying really that if you are selected by Government and paid by Government you are hardly going to bite the hand that feeds you.
The POA has absolutely no say whatsoever on who gets on the panel but ultimately, Government officials select the individuals. How can that process be fair and hold our confidence when operationally, the individuals’ knowledge of operational matters within the prison service are very limited?
Of course, the individuals will have skills on a variety of issues including the economy. The POA has made its feelings known − from Ministerial level downwards − that the process does not hold our confidence. You only have to look at history to see that normally, the Pay Review Body does as it’s told by Government in relation to pay freezes and pay caps. How can that be construed to be ‘acting independently’ by any reasonable person?
I don’t want to personalise this in any particular manner but when I made the point to the chair of the Pay Review Body that it could hardly be independent when it is paid by Government, he responded by saying he would be happy to do it for nothing. In fact, that is the way it used to be when the Review Body was established in the year 2000. The individuals appointed were not paid. I believe it should go back to that format and the Government should heed the advice of the present chair of the Review Body who would be content to do it for nothing. We could even go a step further and think of the money that could be saved in abolishing it altogether and go back to collective bargaining on pay. In reality, that was what was agreed last year after the Review Body recommended closed grades were not worthy of a pay award and outside of the Review Body we did have limited time for collective bargaining. We then agreed a memorandum of understanding that unfortunately, Michael Gove, Secretary of State, interfered with after we had come to an agreement with our employer on a one percent consolidated for closed grades. Hardly earth shattering, but it was more than what was being obtained through our compensatory mechanism of a so-called independent Review Body.
At present, we are balloting as to whether the membership accepts the recommendations of the Pay Review Body or not. Once we have had the outcome of the ballot, the National Executive Committee will meet to determine our response.
Our National Chairman, Pete McParlin, took up post as the elected leader of our Union in May 2011. He had a large pair of boots to fill when he took over from Colin Moses, who worked tirelessly for this Union while he was National Chairman. I was impressed with Pete McParlin during his chairmanship and it was a difficult tenure of office. I believe I struck up a good working relationship with Pete from the start right until the end of his period of office. It was one based on professionalism and trust. We didn’t always agree on issues but he was always prepared to listen to me and any disagreements on policy or a way forward were kept strictly behind closed doors.
I believe the role of General Secretary is to protect the rules and constitution and to administer the Union to ensure the National Chairman is supported. I will ensure that Mike Rolfe, the new National Chairman, will receive that support and I am sure he will be successful in taking this Union forward.
SHAPING OUR FUTURE
The POA and its membership over the years have risen to any challenge that has been set before us. Politicians come and go and we are left picking up the pieces that they have left behind, only for someone else in the political world to listen to some of the socalled experts that have never met a prisoner − let alone opened a cell door.
One thing is certain, we cannot change history but together, we can shape our future. We will need a togetherness and a resolve in order to achieve a secure future that not only makes us stronger as a trade union, but enhances our terms and conditions and makes our members better paid for doing a job that the Prime Minister describes as “some of the most deeply committed public servants in our country who have to work in dangerous and often intimidating conditions.” I am glad the Prime Minister recognises that fact and I hope he agrees that prison officers should have a retirement age that reflects the dangers of the job that they do. I hope this Government is sincere about reform and not only interested in reducing the cost to the taxpayer, as that would be disastrous for everyone concerned. Based on evidence so far, I would have to believe that the Government is focused on driving down the costs, in all honesty, rehabilitation and reoffending comes down the list.
To base prisons on academy schools and foundation hospitals is nonsense, but we will have to see what their plans are once the Prisons Bill unfolds along with the six pilot prisons due to be announced for autonomy. The POA stands ready to negotiate an outcome but only if we believe that staff and prisoners’ welfare is being put first. The race to the bottom is not an option. After all, you need the tools to do the job. No one asked workers at Rolls Royce to build one with a hammer and chisel and no one should be asking prison staff to do their job without the correct tools and resources.
As developments happen in this area we will keep the membership appraised, as I am sure each individual will have a part to play in any strategy the POA National Executive Committee and Conference put in place to ensure our future is protected.
PRISON REFORM ANNOUNCEMENT
On 8th February 2016, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, made a speech on prison reform. It struck me as one of those ‘road to Damascus’ moments when he said: “But the failure of our system today is scandalous. 46 percent of all prisoners will re-offend within a year of release. 60 percent of short-sentenced prisoners will reoffend within the same period. Current levels of prison violence, drug taking and self-harm should shame us all. In a typical week, there will be almost 600 incidents of self-harm; at least one suicide; and 350 assaults, including 90 on staff.”
It is almost as if he has been struck with that flashing light but the reality is he, as Prime Minister, has created the scandal and the shame that he says we should all feel. It is down to his Government with the brutal cuts that have been a major contributory factor, leading to the destruction of a once proud service that led the world. He has overseen a 30 percent reduction in prison officer grades’ since 2010. This has led to the crisis that he now lectures prison staff on. I am surprised that he didn’t say we were all in it together. But he knows we are not all in this together. He doesn’t have to worry about being attacked and assaulted, having excrement thrown at him, having to breathe in the fumes of tobacco and illicit drugs that are undetectable.
I am often criticised for just picking on this Government’s record but actually, if you look back, I am equally critical of previous government’s records. They are the elected Government of the day and they are responsible for the horrendous record since 2010. The blame rests at their door and no one else’s. We have been used as a political football. In 2010, Kenneth Clarke, Secretary of State, was hailed as the great reformer with the so-called rehabilitation revolution. Then we had Chris Grayling, Secretary of State, who was known as the ‘Conservative attack dog’ who dismantled everything Kenneth Clarke put in place, and now we have Michael Gove, Secretary of State ‘that great reformer’ − Cameron’s words not mine − dismantling everything that Chris Grayling put in place. So three Secretaries of State within five years, all with a completely different message. All with their own ideas, some good some not so good but absolutely no consistency for prison staff whatsoever. There needs to be a period of consistency to allow things to settle. Prison staff do not know whether they are coming or going and their views appear not to matter.
I am sure every decent-minded person will be appalled by the cowardly attack on Adrian Ismay in Northern Ireland, which has now resulted in his death. To put a bomb under a car is a despicable act and should be widely condemned. Our members in Northern Ireland live day-in-day-out with threats to their lives.
It is all well and good for politicians to boast about the success of the Good Friday Agreement, signed some 18 years ago, and of course, most people in Northern Ireland want to live in harmony and leave the hostilities of the past in the dustbin. But for our members and their families, the harsh realities are that the Good Friday Agreement never extended to them − they have continued to live under threat from those that wish to harm them.
My condolences go to Adrian’s family, friends and colleagues at this extremely difficult and tragic time. I sincerely hope the coward (or cowards) who planted the bomb are brought to justice as quickly as possible