National Chair

Spring 2019 | 09.04.2019

We must strike to protect each other

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Unions must be seen as part of the solution not the problem

During the preceding months since the last Gatelodge publication the NEC, POA and its branches have had to act to protect members who have not only been subject to adverse working conditions but are also suffering from abuses to the disciplinary processes. These two reasons alone have been enough for the NEC to decide that it is time to ‘strike back’ in order to protect all POA members.

In December 2018 the POA challenged the employer in court over their proposals to introduce changes to the Youth Custody Estate, whilst also planning to introduce an Advanced Prison Officer (APO) role and an Additional Contracted Hours Scheme Pensionable (ACHP) to replace Payment Plus. It was the opinion of the employer that these changes needed a mere consultation process, as, in their eyes, they did not constitute a change to individual’s terms and conditions. No matter how robust our argument was in respect of these proposals constituting a change to our members terms and conditions, there was a denial at the very top, to such an extent that a national dispute was ruled as out of scope, to ignore our opinion and advice. The gauntlet had well and truly been thrown down and we duly picked it up knowing that our argument was sound.

LEGAL JUSTIFICATION AND FAIRNESS

We proceeded to the high court and ultimately, although our claim was dismissed due to legal precedents, we were actually proven correct in all that we had maintained. Enclosed are quotes from the judge who confirmed what we had been saying all along:

I then have to consider the content of the proposed changes. The first is the raft of reforms together referred to as the YCS workforce proposals. They proceed from a stated “HMPPS-wide strategy to professionalise the workforce”. The new band 3 Youth Justice Worker role entails a proposed new training and qualification requirement to be fulfilled by 2023. Those wanting to work in the new role will need study leave to complete the course.

For those who complete the requirements and obtain a job in the new role, their duties will change significantly, even radically. That is the whole point of the new role. The new Youth Justice Officers will be deploying the skills learned on their foundation degree course. For example, they will be involved in multi-disciplinary meetings and in progressing personalised support plans for young people in custody. The reforms would be a resounding failure if their duties remained merely different ways of doing the same thing.

I consider that attaining a foundation degree course and taking study leave to do so are matters that may impact on terms and conditions in regard to the working arrangements of those who do so. It does not matter, as I have said, that the activities are voluntary. I also consider that the proposed creation of the new Band 3 Youth Justice Worker post is a matter that, likewise, may impact on the terms and conditions in regard to the working arrangements of those who apply for, or may apply for, that post.

The same is true in the case of the new band 4 Youth Justice Specialist Worker, by the same reasoning. They too must undergo the training and attain the qualification needed. The same is true of the new band 5 roles, Custodial Manager Youth Custody Service and Development Practice Manager. At the risk of stating the obvious, those applying for and undertaking those new jobs are at least potentially going to do so under changed terms and conditions and performing duties significantly different from those they currently perform.

I conclude that the YCS workforce proposals are within the scope of the NDRP (National Disputes resolution procedure). That is hardly surprising, since they are major national reforms in response to the Taylor Review and other wide-ranging discussions, aimed at professionalising the workforce and changing the culture within the Youth Custody Service. I reach the same conclusion in relation to the proposed new APO role. Those who undertake that role will first have to take part in training in first aid and mentoring. They will then have to become skilled in the third, variable component of the role in order to become qualified to do it. Those who then work in the new APO role will perform the more highly skilled duties that one would expect from the use of the word “advanced” in the title of the job. It is at least likely that they will do so under fresh terms and conditions and that the changes to their duties will go beyond what can currently be required of them, as described in their existing job descriptions. Finally, I have to consider whether the proposal for ACHP falls within the scope of the NDRP. I conclude that it does. If it only affected pay, it would be excluded by paragraph 3.3, but it also affects the length of a prison officer’s working week. For those that apply for ACHP (and, again, it does not matter that they choose whether to do so), their weekly contracted hours will increase as well as their pay. The increase in contracted hours is a change in terms and conditions and a change in working arrangements. It is within paragraph 3.1 of the NDRP. Collective bargaining involving negotiation is to be expected where there is no right to take industrial action.

DO UNIONS STAND A CHANCE WITH THIS JUDICIARY

It is so disappointing and frustrating that the POA are treated with such contempt by the employer that a reasoned and sensible argument is totally discounted, along with a registered national dispute, so they can plough ahead with ill thought out ideas without any consideration whatsoever for the staff it affects. It is also deplorable that the POA have to spend unnecessary amounts of members money to be proven correct, unequivocally, by a high court judge. It is strange how, after the case, the employer stated that they disagreed with the judges’ comments and they are not legally binding, but they were prepared to ‘consult’ further over proposals for the YCS. We duly obliged, and I have to say managed to negotiate an offer that will see the POA members in the affected prisons vote on the final proposals.

The negotiations we facilitated were conducted professionally and with respect. Both sides won. We may not have achieved our ‘wish’ list, but in any negotiation, there has to be compromise, and we are confident the compromises we gained protect our members. I only hope that future proposals (APO & ACHP) are conducted in a similar manner. I would much rather sit around a table and ‘share a meal’ than be scrambling around picking up crumbs.

THE POA LOOK FORWARD TO A FRESH START

Maybe our new CEO Dr Jo Farrar will bring a fresh approach and realise that this union is part of the solution and not part of the problem. The problem as I see it is a recalcitrant group of directors and managers who display no empathy for their staff and who think they can disregard the recognised trade union in their workplace. The POA, under my leadership, will never back down and we will continue to demand our members rights are respected. I look forward to meeting our new CEO and wish her all the very best.

The other burning issue at the moment revolves around the breaches to disciplinary processes that see POA members given unfair awards and, in some instances, dismissed from the service. This has been going on for far too long and recently reached its tipping point when the Executive where made aware of several examples from around the estate where disciplinary procedures had been ignored, abused and lacked consistency. In support of all POA members throughout the estate and to highlight their cases, including an Executive member who was subject to flawed processes, we displayed our disgust at the refusal at the highest level to intervene, even when evidence proves the procedures are totally wrong, and walked out of the National Whitley meeting instructing the employer that until further notice all national negotiations and consultations where on hold. To further support our colleagues in the field we circulated instructions to local branches to dis- engage until we had a resolve.

Interestingly, two other unions, the CWU and UNITE, balloted their members for strike action over the exact same issue. The mere threat of strike action resolved their issues. We do not have that luxury, but we can legally refuse to engage. I find it strange that some members find it easy to stand outside their prisons on a day of protest but find it difficult to knock on their Governors doors to inform them all bets are off until further notice.

UNITY AND TOGETHERNESS ARE THE SAME

As far as I am concerned, we are members of a national union and we unite to support and protect each other. You hurt one of us and you hurt us all.

It is unfortunate that we have been forced to take this stance, especially when executives at the highest level could have intervened and used their common sense to address all our concerns. Undoubtedly, there seems to be one rule for us and another rule for ‘them’, especially when we are made aware of some Governors being given advice and guidance when a criminal offence may have been committed. This cannot be right.

Our stance has already produced results as the employer has agreed to hold a dedicated meeting with the POA to reach an agreement going forward on how to resolve issues surrounding the disciplinary process. We shall update the membership in due course on how we progress these issues.

The employer has submitted their recommendations to the Pay Review Body which highlights just how much they disregard their staff. This was an opportunity to recognise the stress that staff face and an opportunity to motivate and retain. Once again, they missed a trick and displayed a complete lack of understanding. Thinking that a 1% pay rise for F&S, 0.5% for closed grades and none whatsoever ever again for closed grades who refuse to sign over to F&S if it’s financially viable is nothing short of insulting, debilitating and a disgrace. Inflation is running between 2.3 and 2.7% so this is yet another pay cut. Apparently if they wish to keep up with private sector pay awards we should be receiving at least 3.4%. I have told the employer countless times that some staff are proud to remain closed grades and any pay rise into F&S is simply not enough, amounting to between 18p and 31p an hour extra! They should be recommending all staff receive an above inflation pay rise and should certainly be respecting the experience that continues to keep this ship afloat.

RECOGNITION MUST BE FORTHCOMING

We can only hope that the so-called independent Pay Review Body recognises the strain we have all been under, the need to motivate and retain, and awards an above inflation rise for all. The two-tier workforce is a disaster and Fair and Sustainable must be abandoned in order to equalise pay and ensure the future pay scales are fit for purpose. I will continue to wait for an invite to collectively bargain our pay awards.

As we approach our Annual Conference yet again, I look forward to meeting all delegates and guests. It is always a privilege to meet with so many dedicated trade union officials, members and honorary life members. I will continue to get around the estate and address as many branches as possible. Conference inevitably brings about frustrations aimed at the Executive, which if directed at Government and the employer would further unite a union that is bearing its teeth and being proactive at every opportunity. We must remember that we are a strong and committed union that is severely restricted by law, so without doubt our unity will continue to be our strength and I continue to be grateful for the support POA members continue to give to the Executive.

Until next time, work safely, support each other and take care of yourselves. All the best.

National Chair Gatelodge: Archive