National Chair

October 2017 | 30.09.2017

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

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IT IS WITH GREAT PRIDE THAT I ADDRESS THE MEMBERSHIP THROUGH THE PAGES OF GATELODGE. I AM HONOURED AND PRIVILEGED TO BE SERVING YOU AS YOUR NEW NATIONAL CHAIR AND WOULD LIKE TO THANK ALL MEMBERS AND BRANCHES WHO HAVE GIVEN ME THEIR SUPPORT. I WOULD LIKE TO PASS ON MY SINCEREST BEST WISHES FOR THE FUTURE TO ALL CANDIDATES IN BOTH THE CHAIR AND NEC ELECTIONS.

First and foremost, we must have a period of stability. We have been through a turbulent time this year and there are many priorities, the safety of our members being paramount. We have to take a deep breath and consolidate our position. We must await the decision to appeal the recent High Court injunction and see where that takes us. Even if we are not allowed to appeal, I feel we remain in the same position we have been in since 1994 and it changes nothing. We will always respond to members’ health and safety concerns and take appropriate steps to support and protect them.

We must await Government decisions on pay and new build prisons and we must continue to pressure for adequate pay and a realistic retirement age in order to recruit and retain staff.

Whilst I understand the membership’s frustrations at the apparent lack of updates, people must understand that we are waiting for Parliament to reconvene (at the time of writing) so that we can enter into negotiations and discover the extent (or not) of our pay award. Until this happens we are all in limbo.

In order to improve communication, I intend to look at ways that the membership can converse with me. I am sure our new IT provider can source a technique that allows this − so watch this space.

We can achieve positive outcomes

We undoubtedly have tough times ahead but I believe if we unite, support and believe in each other we can achieve positive outcomes that will improve our working life. The issues that remain long-standing concerns include retirement age, pay rises, safety and staffing levels. As I write this column, we await the delayed outcome of the pay award for 2017. One can only hope that all grades across the board are afforded a consolidated pay rise, nothing else is acceptable.

As the prison population continues to increase we once again witness unnecessary stresses on our members who have to deal with prisoners in overcrowded conditions to placate the statisticians who once again, failed to heed the warnings of the POA and got it wrong.

If the Government stopped closing prisons we could reduce the burden on staff and quite easily cope with the additional sentences that are handed down, but all too often, poor decisions are made and high-risk prisoners are suddenly downgraded to increase the rolls on our landings, how long before we have another Mubarak incident? I hope the governors who make these decisions are held accountable.

Protection against violence

The violence against our members continues to increase and the POA will continue to insist that the most appropriate resources are available to quell the attacks we face. Most notably these will include PAVA spray, rigid cuffs, body-worn cameras and of course, adequate staffing levels.

We are making steady progress on this front and the pilot for PAVA is about to begin in four sites. This, of course, cannot happen soon enough as we once again witness major disturbances in our jails. Whether public or private, we all face the same dangers and are all subject to the violent indiscipline that seems to be increasing yet again. It’s about time staff are recognised for their bravery and commitment in quelling these riots.

Retirement age

Once Parliament reconvenes, the POA will be pushing to reignite negotiations over retirement age. We now have a clear mandate from the membership to achieve a retirement age of 60, so we will obviously be pushing for this. Any reduction in retirement age will be a start and an improvement to members lives but we will always have a target age of 60 as long as that is the will of the membership. To expect a frontline operational prison officer to continue in service after the age of 60 is totally unrealistic, the sooner some Whitehall pen-pusher realises this the better.

In order to better ourselves we have to remain strong, patient and resilient. Airing criticisms on social media sites only detracts from our most important issues. We must remember that if we are unhappy, then our annual conference is the place to show that discontent. Bitter social media posts serve no purpose, we are much better than that.

Frontline public sector service

The POA will once again have representations at TUC, Labour and Conservative conferences, which gives us the opportunity to gain political support and highlight the dangers the membership face on a daily basis. This is vital in gaining support to reform many aspects of our job. It is time we competed with other public sector bodies to improve pay structures and working conditions. We must ensure we are not the forgotten public sector service and promote the ¬increasingly dangerous job we do on behalf of society. We are without doubt a frontline public sector service.

The POA will continue to lobby politicians. You, the membership deserve credit and should be proud of the job you all do.

Finally, I am happy to visit branches and address the membership so please continue to invite me. I will not shy away from difficult questions and criticisms and will always be open and honest with you. Your fight is my fight.

To all staff recovering from illness or assaults I wish you a speedy recovery.

Together we will make a difference.

Unity is strength.

All the best.

Mark Fairhurst
National Chair

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