National Chair

April 2017 | 03.04.2017

STICKING TOGETHER IS KEY TO SUCCESS

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THE POA WILL HAVE A LARGE PART TO PLAY IN SHAPING THE PRISONS BILL.

Colleagues,

Since my last jottings in Gatelodge, I had the honour of being able to attend the funeral of Officer Nick Medlin, on the Isle of Wight, who was murdered on Christmas Day 2016. Nothing was more striking than the dignified behaviour of Nick’s bereaved family, friends and colleagues who all played their part in paying the ultimate respect to their fallen hero. Nick had not been a prison officer for a long time, but had certainly taken to it like a duck takes to water and had earned the respect of his colleagues to the point that he played a pivotal role in being a shining example of professionalism. RIP Nick, and may your family and friends find peace again in the coming months and years.



Prisons Bill

As we move further in to 2017, the Prisons Bill will become a central focus point as Government try to pass it through Parliament and the Lords, and the POA have a large part to play in shaping this Bill to ensure it has our hallmarks etched in to it. This will not be a job for the POA NEC alone and we must all play our part in persuading and influencing politicians who will be required to vote on the finished article.

Engaging members

There is much frustration, anger and expectation amongst our members at the moment, feelings that are not lost on the NEC. The Government has rushed to injunct us at every opportunity and in return, has forced a form of modern day slavery on POA members. They have also further pushed to divide us without seemingly realising the consequences of continued division on pay, pension and other aspects. A point the NEC continue to make is that if you focus staff on each other and what they are earning, then they will never be focused fully on the job they are employed to do and we must continue to make the case for a pay structure that is fi t for purpose in recruitment and retention and fair to all.

There has been no deliberate attempt to hide anything or keep our members misinformed. Myself and others on the NEC have spent countless days on the road making sure we are meeting, explaining and delivering the latest position to our members in the branches. Important work in engaging our members in to what the POA are doing for them and costly all the same in time and money.

I have heard comments such as we have lost the impetus, lost our teeth and that we have missed our opportunities. Comments I’ve seen and witnessed and probably made myself in the past, so I fully understand the sentiments of people that are not directly involved in the dealings of the NEC.

I can say for certain though that many of the issues that we have and want resolved speedily have been around for many years. Those same issues have been avoided by Government and employers in years gone by, when the POA have worked hard to build a case for change.

The most recent period in our history, however, has opened up many long closed and forgotten pages that had previously been left to collect dust, wither away and from a Government perspective, hopefully never to resurface.

We stirred up the hornet’s nest last year and gained much needed media coverage and political clout. An interest in our establishments has re-emerged and given us the confidence to pick up previously neglected books and open the cover once again.

Confidence that I now see in our members, our committees and people all around, taking on the bullies and standing up for our rights. I also see fear, fear from managers, fear from politicians and fear from those that would have us permanently suppressed and fighting among ourselves.

No-one said this would be an easy or pleasant route nor that it would not be fraught with danger and frustration, but sticking together is key to having any chance of success. The issues that we face together have always been issues encased in titanium and needing a mighty hammer; delivering blow after blow to break them out.

It was inevitable that the media machine would turn against the POA once we got our issues into mainstream headlines almost daily. That Government would put their efforts into appearing to solve the issues whilst in reality, applying a sticking plaster to a gaping wound, and that our issues, concerns and demands would be replaced by fresher, newer stories in the media spotlight.

Determined and dogged

Those long-standing issues that we have collectively kicked the door open to will not be resolved in a day, a week, a month and may in fact take years or indeed may never get the answer we want to them. This is not defeatist this is reality, but the POA is a determined and dogged Union that will never forget its principles nor will it give up on the fight for what is right, proper and deserved for our members.

Fighting takes many forms though and we have embarked upon the most condensed period of call to arms in recent POA history, perhaps in fact the most militant period ever. We must however continue to exhaust all avenues open to us and not get consumed by the taste of blood in trying to win the argument. The real fight is often in the halls and backrooms of Westminster, those who control the public purse strings that fund our public and private institutions and can ultimately choose to support or deny our requests.

We have a majority Tory Government that has embarked on a course of destruction of public services. The POA in all of this has staved off further cuts to our budgets for the moment and has in fact forced the Government to find some new money. We may rightly complain that this is not sufficient and also that some of it has been used to a divisive end, but we have nevertheless forced the Government to act on the public concern around our workplaces and we will continue to do so.

Unions are always the underdogs and let’s face it; none are more suppressed than our very own Union that Government has legislated against to control. Does this mean that we aren’t prepared to pack a punch? Certainly not, but we must choose our fights carefully and sometimes be patient when it appears that not very much is happening.

Build unity and momentum

So, I remain positive in our cause and our efforts to fight those many battles yet to fi ght. I urge our frustrated and demoralised members to realise that we have not given up, that there will always be opportunity to re-stir the hornet’s nest and that strategies and building momentum and our case for change will take time, perhaps a long time. My message to our membership is remember that you are the POA and that you have every vested interest in us being united and sticking together even when the ‘chips seem down’. Let’s stick together remain strong, build unity and momentum within our branches and roll our sleeves up ready for the inevitable fights we are going to have, standing shoulder to shoulder in the near future and beyond.

Since my last article, I have visited Werrington, Hydebank Wood, Magilligan, Maghaberry, PECS, NI Training College, Castell House, Hewell Open, Hewell Closed, Glen Parva, Berwyn, The Verne and Birmingham.

Please let me know if you would like a visit from the National Chair by emailing nc@poauk.org.uk