National Chairman

June 2014 | 25.06.2014

Annual Conference, May 2014

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P J McParlin, POA National Chairman reports from Conference reminding members that we are stronger together.


Following Annual Conference, the executive and full time officers must now progress the motions which were determined by the delegates on behalf of their branches. This can be time consuming work and the NEC has already entered into discussions with the employer and politicians on a number of difficult and contentious issues arising from the motions enacted at our Annual Conference. This work will continue throughout the year and the executive will, of course, provide you with an update on our progress.

This year we had an agenda of 92 motions and a conference reduced to three days duration. Many of the delegates, along with the executive, took annual leave to attend. On behalf of the membership; thank you for that visible commitment to progress the business of the Union.

Raising the POA profile

The Coalition Government is responsible for the restrictions on facility time and the arbitrary interpretation of trade union duties and activities. Yet by definition, much of the business of our Annual Conference has an undeniable impact on the essential protection of the public. With the TUC, we continue to challenge the seemingly entrenched anti-trade union bias among politicians and sections of the media. The Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, is on record as stating that trade unions are as relevant today as they always have been. If the Labour Government does win the next general election we will remind him of the need to revisit the restrictions on facility time.

Notwithstanding the above, the POA, a Union which is unaffiliated to any political party, will continue to campaign within the political arena. A continued and visible presence within Parliament, at fringe meetings, forums and demonstrations, and building on the success of the recent march and rally at Westminster will continue to raise our profile. Our message is constant, that prison workers are not invisible, faceless, public and private sector workers but essential workers.

The POA has always acknowledged the right of management to manage within the workplace. Alongside that acknowledgment, the POA insists that politicians, the employer, and pressure groups cannot be allowed to have the monopoly on the reform of public services. Whether it is at local or national level the POA will challenge ill thought out change that undermines the health and safety of the workforce and the prisoners in our care. Reflecting on the past year

In any review of the past year we must reflect, as I emphasised in my opening speech at Annual Conference, on the positives and also of course the negatives.

Rally at Westminster

At our rally in March, POA members and supporters brought the issues of pay, pension contributions, pension age, budget cuts, prison closures and workplace safety to politicians, the media and the public. As ever, we must gain the recognition and the support of the public for the work we do on their behalf. Again, we must insist that if politicians want our support they must have acceptable, sensible and resourced policies in relation to prison and psychiatric hospitals. These policies must be placed in their manifestos in the lead up to the next general election.

Pay

The Coalition Government has claimed that the recession is over. It certainly does not feel like that for POA members and a one percent pay rise is not a cause for celebration following a sustained period of pay freezes.

Nevertheless, for public sector prison staff, a consolidated pay award from April 2014 confirms that the Fair and Sustainable Agreement is not a mark-time pay agreement. There is a long way to go to restore the pre-recession levels of pay and remuneration but it is a start.

In the private sector, some members have seen improved rates of pay this year while others are waiting to hear from their employers as to when pay negotiations will commence.

The Coalition Government rejected the NHS Pay Review Body recommendations of a consolidated award. The NEC are consulting with our members within the secure hospital estate as to the way forward. In the past we have been able to comply with the strictures of the TULCRA legislation to enact lawful industrial action in this sector. We will of course take the wishes of the membership into account. Modernisation

This executive aims to continue with the essential modernisation of the POA that began in 2011 and gathered pace with the adoption of Conference Papers 1 to 10 in May 2013.

We must strengthen the POA, empower the membership, and increase our influence, legitimacy and leverage. You cannot build a union on quicksand and plan only for the short term. The structure and the finances of the POA must be able to provide for the needs and aspirations of our increasingly diverse membership.

As we go forward, a strong and effective POA is essential to deliver a better life for its members and their families.

Benchmarking

Benchmarking is complex, difficult and detailed work. For the Coalition Government it is all about savings. For the POA it is all about savage cuts to budgets and the effect on the membership in the workplace. Again, for the POA, continued engagement in benchmarking is about avoiding compulsory redundancies, resisting the fragmentation of outsourcing and the ramifications of TUPE legislation. Our message remains consistent; that the numbers of staff on duty within the operational environment has to provide a safe and effective working environment. The numbers must add up.

As highlighted in the recent ‘Gatelodge Extra’, there remains no evidence to date of the New Ways of Working. With no prison in steady state the MTT resource is a permanent fixture in public sector prisons.

The reality of the prison and psychiatric estate

Prisons and psychiatric hospitals are demand-led. There is always the danger that the policy makers predicate their planning on over optimistic predictions of the prison population. It would appear that there has been no provision made for the failure to reduce the prison population. The much hyped rehabilitation revolution is unachievable; a myth made irrelevant by the facts, the figures and the reality of the Criminal Justice System.

Meanwhile, detached duty is ongoing and is expensive in terms of cost to prison budgets and the work/life balance of staff. Yes there are plans to recruit 1,600 prison officers but effectively, NOMS are running to stand still. The pre-planning and preparation by NOMS in terms of VEDS and recruitment has been farcical.

It appears that politicians want custodial staff to be at one a military force and the Salvation Army, to punish and to rehabilitate but without providing the resources to do either.

We have PSIs and PSOs on managing violence, there are statements on zero tolerance but the POA will not allow the employer to renege on its commitments. The POA calls upon NOMS and politicians to fulfil their obligations to their staff and join with us to insist that if our members are assaulted the perpetrators of that crime are prosecuted in court.

Perception

So much for the reality of the Criminal Justice System, but the perception of the media and the self-absorbed liberal elite is somewhat different. Their message is that prisons are expensive and ineffective. Our message is that without prisons; safe, secure and decent prisons then you do not protect the public, the staff and the prisoners in our care. Access to books is all well and good but if the liberal elite are interested in the provision of reading materials then they need to become interested in safety and budgets. To be able to address the needs of rehabilitation, let alone read books, there has to be a safe and ordered environment.

Engagement

As a Trade Union we have to ensure that we get the balance right between challenging the process and engagement in the process. As a Trade Union we could have continued with a policy of saying no to engagement, and no to dialogue with politicians, the employer, penal pressure groups and others. If you continue to say no to engagement then you end up with an NEC muttering to itself about its enemies, talking tough with little if no substance to the rhetoric. You then end up being mired in a startling self–delusion, blaming everyone else, looking to lawyers, looking to ACAS and looking to the TUC to ride to the rescue. That is a cry for help without an answer.

A plan was needed to address the economic and historical challenges faced by the POA. A plan that had to be consistent and coherent and that could be communicated to the membership.

This is not to condemn a tub–thumping approach but to infuse it with pragmatism. This Union has had to set out from the basic premise of the need to be honest with itself. I recognise that this has been uncomfortable for some and has resulted in a disconnection with others.

Everything we do is designed to defend pay, terms and conditions, to protect us in the workplace. We much prefer to do this through negotiation, through engagement and through the principles of collective engagement.

And if all this fails? Well, this executive, with the mandate and support of the membership will never be afraid to take action to defend hard-won terms and conditions.

The POA is and continues to be a tireless defender of trade union rights against draconian legislation. As Peter Taffe, the Socialist Party Secretary said in his tribute to Bob Crow:

“The RMT is a tireless defender of trade union rights alongside the PCS and the POA Prison Officer’s Union.”

Yes, there are those who will disagree with what we are doing and what we are trying to do, but at no time do they say what (if anything) they would do differently. In the past we have been embittered at failure but let us not be embittered when we do have successes. We must not be bitter together, we must be better together and adhere to our 2014 Annual Conference logo − that we are stronger together.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman

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