National Chair

December 2017 | 01.12.2017

IMPROVING THE WORKING LIFE OF PRISON OFFICERS

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POA National Chair, Mark Fairhurst, says that members have the perfect opportunity to affect the future of this union by using their votes.

As we all ponder the pay award from a clearly Government-influenced Pay Review Body, I can’t help but concern myself with the publicity we got from the announcement that the public sector pay cap had been breached for prison officers. To use the POA as a political pawn to divide public sector unions is once again an example of how the Government’s spin machine works. We will never be divided from our trade union friends and will continue to campaign for a realistic pay rise for all public-sector workers.

When you look into the finer detail, it is clear that the majority of staff, some 60 percent, received between 1.1 and 1.3 percent. Hardly an inflation-busting award that will motivate and inspire people. The calculations on the £400 increase amount to less than £1 per day extra. Do Government ministers, the employer or the Pay Review Body really think that less than a pound a day increase in pay compensates you for the last seven years of austerity or the unacceptable levels of violence you now face? If they think this is acceptable they need to join the real world.

Can an independent Pay Review Body be truly independent if Government chooses the members, pays the members and directs their remit and budgets? Surely, a truly representative body would include a retired trade union leader, a business leader, a member of the judiciary and a serving prison officer? This would be more realistic, unbiased and representative of shop floor staff.

Call me cynical; but if an independent body cannot see that deteriorating working conditions, inadequate wages and a problem with retention is not a reason to award a substantially above inflation-busting pay award, then I have to wonder if they visit jails with their eyes closed and wearing ear defenders. Anything less than three percent for any worker is a pay cut.

The POA will continue to press the employer and Government to restore collective bargaining rights over pay. One thing is for sure, if the employer does not sit down with this Union to sort out fit-for-purpose pay structures that recognise, reward and motivate all grades, this crisis will continue and we will lag behind all other industries. When bus drivers, shop workers and other public-sector bodies pay better than prison officers, the decision-makers really need to start to listen to this Union.

Positive meeting with Prisons Minister

I recently met with the Prisons Minister, Sam Ghyima, to discuss pressing issues that affect us all. I found this meeting to be a positive step and the burning issue about our retirement age was met with a comment that “we need to discuss the retirement age of prison officers.” The door is not closed on this issue and we will continue to insist that we negotiate a retirement age that allows our members to enjoy their latter days with the dignity they deserve. Our policy will always be to campaign for a retirement age of 60 and we will never give up. Hopefully, we can reignite retirement age negotiations in the near future.

Safety at work

Prison safety continues to be very concerning. The latest statistics on violence display historical highs for self-harm, assaults and serious assaults for both prisoners and staff. We cannot continue to sit back and accept this situation. We must unite and support each other, sharing good practice and using your area NEC reps to assist you. The pilot of PAVA is welcome but we need all operational staff to be issued with this vital piece of equipment. Staff are now being assaulted at a rate of 20 per day. We will continue to press this issue. Please ensure you and your members work safely and remember that a safe ratio of staff to prisoners when unlocked is one that local committees negotiate with their governor, there is no such thing as a 30:1 ratio.

Branches

As I continue to conduct branch visits I am impressed by the tenacity, attitude and dedication of POA members who face adversity every shift. Your concerns are my concerns and I would encourage all branches to continue to work in unity to improve working conditions. It comes as no surprise to me that the most stable and safe prisons are ones that have good industrial relations, a governor that listens to committees and forms agreements that benefits both sides. I have to wonder why so many senior managers in the field are so reluctant to promote staff safety and plough on regardless of risk. Is it really that surprising that local staff react if their concerns are not being addressed? We will always support local branches over their health and safety concerns, your safety is non-negotiable.

Elections

There are soon to be national elections. The issue of voter turnout continues to be disappointing. If members are unhappy then they need to demonstrate this via the ballot box. Why sit in rest rooms complaining when you have the perfect opportunity to affect the future of this Union? Use your vote!

Turnouts of less than 10 percent do little to promote the feelings of staff on the landings and I would encourage all local committees to ensure the next lot of elections are well publicised and do all they can to motivate staff to participate. The minimum aim would be a 50 percent turnout as this duplicates ballot thresholds for those unions that enjoy the basic human right to take industrial action and withdraw their labour.

If POA members want better working conditions then it is essential that initiatives promoted by this executive are supported. This means a presence at TUC rallies and our own lobby events. We will be planning future rallies so we are relying on the membership to attend and support our fight. Whilst I understand that this means attending in your own time, we must ensure that our voice is heard across all political parties if we are to gain support for the issues we face. We will, of course, assist with expenses but we really need to step up our efforts. We will never gain anything without a fight.

Scottish POA Annual Conference

I recently attended the Scottish POA Annual Conference and was impressed by the working conditions that our members have negotiated. There is much that the present Government could learn from Scotland, not least of which includes investment in a modern prison estate, which is entirely public sector, a partnership agreement that prevents escalating industrial relations issues and a throughcare process that has proved that prison officers working in the community with recently released prisoners can positively affect outcomes. In this instance, 78 percent of released prisoners supervised by prison officers do not reoffend during that vital initial 12-month period after release. There is no reason why this model could not be replicated in England and Wales. The taxpayer currently funds CRCs that have been proven to be ineffective. Imagine a joint initiative between prison officers and probation to take over this role. We would need massive recruitment, training and investment but the Scottish results speak for themselves. We all now work for HMPPS so there is no reason why it could not be trialled.

Finally, I would like to thank you for your continued support. I can assure everybody that the NEC are working tirelessly to improve your working life. Please continue to invite me to address your branch or just visit and address your concerns.

All the best for the future.

Unity is strength.

Mark Fairhurst
National Chair

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