National Chair

December 2014 | 17.12.2014

Pay and Reward

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On 30 November, 2014 the National Executive provided evidence to the Prison Service Pay Review Body (PSPRB) in respect of the POA pay submission for 2015/2016. This was the oral evidence session which followed on from our written submission.


At the scheduled pre–meeting with the General Secretary and I, and again in their report for 2014, the PSPRB emphasised that the one percent consolidated award provided last year for all grades should not have been seen as setting a precedent. Notwithstanding that timely reminder, the POA has a legitimate expectation that the PSPRB will consider the evidence before them, avoid undue pressure from politicians, and provide a consolidated pay award for its members.

The activation letters to the PSPRB from Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Andrew Selous, the Prison Minister reminded us all that the Government continues to insist on the need for continued pay restraint across the public sector. Yet, as Mr Alexander states within the activation letter, the fiscal forecast has the public finances returning to a more sustainable position. Indeed, according to the International Monetary Fund, the UK has the fastest growing economy compared to every other major developed country (Telegraph 25 July 2014).

UK workers have been living through one of the longest and deepest pay cuts in modern history and pay growth remains below the rate of inflation. The POA continues to point out to the PSPRB that an award of one percent would in itself be tantamount to pay restraint. Once again, the activation letters conveniently forget to remind the PSPRB that they are a compensatory measure for the removal of our trade union rights.

Decreasing motivation

In their report for 2014, the PSPRB agreed with the POA that motivation in the prison service was low and had decreased in recent years. In 2014, the PSPRB welcomed the NOMS proposal to commission qualitative research into the engagement and motivation of their workforce. This year, the PSPRB has had access to the Pulse surveys, the IES survey, IMB reports and the POA commissioned report by the University of Bedfordshire. Given the additional evidence provided within the annual report of the Chief Inspector of Prisons and NOMS own annual report then the case for a consolidated pay award is made. All of the available evidence points to the chronic overcrowding of prisons, staff shortages, a disturbing lack of confidence in management decision-making and increased levels of violence in the workplace. Indeed, on the day of our oral evidence session, the publication of the latest statistics revealed an increase in assaults of 10 percent in the previous 12 months with an average of 42 assaults each and every day. Assaults on staff had increased by 12 percent and serious assaults by 32 percent.

So when POA members read that politicians and the employer recommend that 85 percent of the workforce should receive a nil pay award then they could be forgiven for wondering if they have been taking part in an episode of the television series Star Trek, “it’s life Jim but not as we know it”.

Challenging year

In response to the crisis in staffing, Andrew Selous, the Prison Minister, has said that: “Prisons are well run due to the dedication of the hard-working staff in them.” Leaving aside understandable concerns on the day-to-day management of our prisons, the POA would agree with him when he says that “it has been a challenging year for prison staff dealing with major organisational change.” In his speech to the Conservative Party Conference in October 2014, Christopher Grayling, the Justice Minister, said: “Let me put it on record that it is thanks to the excellent staff in our prisons that all this has been delivered against a backdrop of huge financial restraint.” The POA reminded the PSPRB that £749million has now been saved in cuts to the MOJ budget in a four-year period. Again, the Justice Minister is on record as stating: “When I visit the secure units in our prisons, I am both shocked and impressed by the scale of the challenge and dedication of our staff in dealing with some deeply troubled people.”

Dedication, commitment and professionalism

What then of Michael Spurr, the Chief Executive of NOMS? In the foreword to the annual report 2013/14 he talks about the dedication, commitment and professionalism of staff. He states that “the reality is that every day staff do incredibly difficult work really well and as a result the Agency has gained an international reputation for the quality of the work we do.”

The employer insists that they do recognise the work and dedication of its staff and the contribution they make to ensure that that prison service is able to operate effectively. POA members everywhere will continue to ask the question as to just how do NOMS propose to recognise their contribution?

How can NOMS justify a recommendation to the PSPRB of a nil increase for staff in the closed grades, the 85 percent of the workforce who alongside their other colleagues have provided the dedication and commitment referred to by ministers and our employer?

Staffing

In their submission to the PSPRB the employer points to the unexpected rise in the prison population and the unexpected shortfall in staffing. Leaving aside the need for our employer to invest in a new crystal ball, their submission in respect of frontline recruitment is the latest contribution to British fiction. In claiming that they are on course to recruit 1,700 staff by March 2015 the employer has chosen to ignore a number of the more obvious areas of concern:

° The length of time taken in the vetting of potential recruits; ° The capacity of the RAD and POELT centres; ° The impact on the viability of the Operational Support Grade structure, having encouraged these grades to become prison officers; ° The significant loss of staff numbers as established staff retire and resign; and ° The continued impact of the removal and/or freezing of pay areas and allowances under Fair and Sustainable.

The Reserve

NOMS insists that the HMPS Reserve is entirely separate from the frontline recruitment process in that it is about re-engaging staff and not about new staff per se. If the POA was to accept this argument, and leave aside the mismanagement which made it necessary, and that the creation of part–time employment is nothing to boast about in itself given the numbers of unemployed, then we would still need to remind the employer that the rate of pay and work–life balance on offer to the reservists is in contempt of existing staff.

NOMS will of course maintain in their evidence to the PSPRB that they cannot afford a consolidated pay award. I have never known the employer to say anything else, even in years of relative prosperity. The prison service has to be able to recruit and retain an effective and competent workforce and prison staff must know that their contribution is recognised and will be rewarded by the employer. The clear and unequivocal message from the POA to the PSPRB, the employer and politicians, is that you cannot afford to award anything less than a consolidated pay award for 2015/16.

Special delegates’ conference

The Special delegates’ conference (SDC) held at the Hinckley Island hotel was the culmination of several months of without prejudice negotiations between the POA and NOMS. The decision by the SDC that the membership must decide in a workplace ballot on whether the offer from NOMS is acceptable, is in my opinion a ‘back from the brink’ moment in the history of the POA. A ballot of the affected membership will now take place between 17 November and 30 November. As this edition of Gatelodge is prepared for publication, the ballot has yet to commence and further reflections and analysis will have to wait until the result is announced. However, in my opinion it would be wishful thinking to believe that the employer, with the support of politicians, will not address the OASYs backlog with or without agreement with the POA.

Without an agreement between the POA and NOMS, on this issue, we will be on a collision course with the employer and politicians, without the benefits and protections that have been negotiated by the NEC.

I am confident that POA can influence the public, politicians and the media on our pension age and health and safety but I am far from convinced that we can do so on the backlog in OASYs. And yes, as ever, there can be a price to pay in any negotiations that are akin to collective bargaining. The membership will now decide.

The SDC began with a conference agenda of one motion. It ended with an emergency motion being placed on the agenda and a further two emergency motions being rejected by the conference delegates.

In recent years there has been a tendency to submit emergency motions to our conferences when they are in session without providing the membership with the opportunity to decide on the merits of these motions at branch meetings. Indeed, at the SDC in Hinckley a motion was placed on the agenda which was clearly in breach of the Rules and Constitution of the POA.

When emergency motions are brought in such circumstances it does not allow the Executive to seek the necessary legal advice on the motion. Our rules and constitution are clear, that when conference is in session the conference delegates are the decision-making body of the POA.

This is democracy and the NEC would never seek to change this rule. However, it is essential in order to uphold democracy and legitimacy that we all abide by the rules and constitution of the POA. We must all recognise the importance of Standing Orders as the essential code of practice that is necessary to ensure that our conferences are run along legal and professional lines.

The circus can be an interesting place to visit but it cannot be the role model for a progressive trade union. It is incumbent therefore on us all to support Standing Orders and the rules and constitution of the POA. If a branch wants to change our rules please follow the accepted and well-established processes to do so.

Conclusion

When you are elected to represent the membership at local and national office you do so to make a difference. There will always be different views expressed from the rostrum and that is how it should be but the approach must be a consistent one. Passions can and do on occasion run high because the outcome matters so much and every vote counts. As National Chairman my fervent hope is that our conferences do not become a contest of negatives with coalitions based on the principle of against without considering all of the evidence.

I take this opportunity to wish all of you the compliments of the season with my fervent hope that in 2015 the POA will continue to make improvements in pay and conditions for the membership.

PJ McParlin
National Chairman