National Chair

August 2012 | 21.08.2012



The Pension Ballot timetable has now been published and the result will be announced in early August.

Whatever the result of the ballot, the POA campaign to ensure a safe and appropriate pensionable age for all workers will continue. To that end I attended a control and restraint demonstration at HMP Portland with the Member of Parliament for the constituency, Richard Drax. I want to put on record my thanks to the Governor of HMP Portland, the POA committee and the staff who facilitated the demonstration. I know that many of you have or intend to invite your MPs to demonstrations in your establishments. Do not underestimate the importance of these demonstrations. Alongside our other campaign initiatives, I am convinced that together we will force politicians to recognise the lunacy of their pensionable age imposition on prison staff.

While we are on the subject of age and performance issues I was interested to be reminded by the POA at Durham of the Disability / Older Prisoner Questionnaire produced by NOMS for the provision of services for older prisoners. For ease of reference I will reproduce it below for discussion purposes:

“Older prisoners: It is important to note that although age does not necessarily produce disability issues, older prisoners who have reached 55 can develop ailments ranging from general ill health, hearing problems, visual impairment, infirmity, diabetes as well as some chronic illnesses that produce disabilities. It is important that these issues are identified as soon as possible following reception into prison”.

As ever, the POA does not seek to discriminate against or underestimate the contribution of older workers. The POA wants choice not imposition in pensionable age arrangements within operational workplaces.

Stab-proof vests

Our prisons are populated by increasing numbers of violent and refractory prisoners. The need to protect staff in the workplace is of paramount importance to the POA. In our workplaces we cannot eliminate all workplace-related injuries but we must always look at options to reduce risk. To that end, the issue of the provision of stab-proof vests has again been an agenda item at the 148th National Whitley on 13 July 2012. The NEC accepts that the provision of stabproof vests divides opinion among the membership. Nevertheless, the NEC was pleased to hear NOMS confirm that they intend to run pilots in a number of prisons as to the effectiveness and practicality of the use of stab vests within prison establishments. The employer tells the POA that they have concerns with regard to the potential dehumanisation of prison officers. While recognising the need for that debate the POA is aware that the personal protective industry can now produce slash resistant T-shirts.

The POA calls upon the employer to review their provision of personal protective equipment from vests to pava spray to appropriate gloves for cell searching procedures. Yes, we are in the midst of a damaging recession but if society truly values the work we do on behalf of society then there can be no price placed on personal protective equipment. The safety of staff and indeed the prisoners in our care is beyond cost cutting considerations. We will keep the membership updated as we progress this issue.


As we prepare this edition of the Gatelodge, it has been have reported in the national press (The Daily Telegraph) that Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office Minister, is to announce the details of the forthcoming consultations with trade unions on facility time arrangements within the public sector in England and Wales. This announcement is expected in the week commencing the 8 July, 2012.

According to the Telegraph, a Whitehall study has identified 248 trade union representatives who are seconded to full–time trade union roles. In addition, the study points to an additional 6,800 civil servants who spend a proportion of their working week on trade union activity within the workplace. The report states that the cost to the taxpayer of these arrangements is £36 million a year.

The facts about facility time for union representatives are of course more complex than the selective headlines released to the press. In the document “Facility time for union reps – separating fact from fiction” the TUC has pointed to the benefits of paid time off for union representatives. The NEC has distributed this document to the membership.

Yes, there are costs to be borne by the employer but alongside these costs trade unions are able to identify cost effective and discernable benefits within the workplace. Indeed the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform in 2007 found that:

  1. Dismissal rates were lower in unionised workplaces
  2. Voluntary exit rates were lower in unionised workplaces
  3. Employment tribunal cases were lower in unionised workplaces
  4. Workplace related injuries were lower in unionised workplaces
  5. Workplace related illnesses were lower in unionised workplaces.

The POA accepts that taxpayers’ money – our money lest we forget - has to be utilised effectively but there can be no doubt that effective representation has achieved benefits for the employer and employee.

Notwithstanding the evidence provided above, the Coalition Government is determined to change the current arrangements. Ministers have stated that there will be no public sector workers on full–time facility time arrangements in the future and that the status quo is not an option. As a trade union we must also acknowledge that an invitation to consult is not the same as negotiation under collective bargaining arrangements.

Notwithstanding this apparent fait accompli, the POA must ensure that we retain our position as the pre–eminent trade union within the custodial services environment.

Change is often unwelcome but following on from Annual Conference Motion 61 [2011] the POA had begun the process of revisiting its structures. The membership has a legitimate expectation that any imposed changes, alongside an internal structural review, will be managed appropriately in order to maintain effective and cost–effective representation for the membership.

Again, as National Chairman I believe that the message from Annual Conference 2012 was clear and unambiguous, that the POA cannot afford to procrastinate on this issue. I do not underestimate the scale of the challenge. In response to concerns raised with the NEC the membership can expect regular updates on progress via circulars and a dedicated blog from members of the committee designated to do this work on behalf of the POA. The minutes of the dedicated meetings to progress this work and the action points therein, will be available for perusal by the membership. The committee has been provided with additional resources and personnel. My commitment to the membership is that this work will be centrally driven and will move at pace.


In the midst of a two year pay freeze for workers earning over 21K the POA has not lost sight of the need to prepare for future submissions to the Pay Review Body. The announcement that pay for 2013/2014 will be capped at one percent is tantamount to a further period of pay restraint. We must be inventive in our submissions to the Pay Review Body and emphasise our role as a front line and essential service.

The schedule of visits to establishments by the Pay Review Body has been published. If you are one of the establishments chosen; please ensure that you meet with Pay Review Body and take this opportunity to engage with them. The Pay Review Body meets with the NEC but they need to hear your concerns too. If you need any assistance in regard to these meetings please contact the national representative identified for your area.


In my role as National Chairman I was pleased to receive an invitation to attend a monthly meeting of the Greater London Respect Committee at HMP Send. The POA supports Respect as they highlight issues of concern to BME workers within NOMS. Our goals are the same and working together we can address issues as they arise within the framework of legal advice and appropriate representation within the workplace. My thanks to the Chair of the meeting, Norman Puckerin, for the welcome afforded to me and Phil Birch, the Branch Chair of HMP Send.

Norman has accepted an invitation to attend a meeting of the POA Equality Committee in order to progress further our discussions at HMP Send.

‘Gordon Behind Bars’

Finally, my attention was drawn to a Channel 4 series; “Gordon Behind Bars” in which the celebrity chef sought to bring work and rehabilitation to prisoners within HMP Brixton. Mr Ramsey’s persona and language can have come as no surprise to the watching public or to senior management within NOMS. Mr Ramsey can count himself fortunate not to be employed by NOMS as disciplinary action with dismissal as the outcome would have been inevitable despite the determined efforts of POA representation.

It would appear that it is acceptable to commission a television series which guarantees the use of bad language whereas no leeway would ever be given to staff in such circumstances.

However, I did enjoy the response of one prisoner on being searched following a suspected tool compromise “We were treated like criminals”. Now there is a discussion topic.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman