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Report from POA Scotland

National Chairman of POA Scotland, Phil Fairlie, reports on his first year in office.

As first years go it’s been an interesting one to say the least! It is exactly a year since I took up post as Chairman in Scotland, and I can honestly say that I have enjoyed every minute of it, including those ones that caught me unawares, that had me treading new ground, and that had me unsure of the answers as I learned to adapt to the new role.

You can watch from the sidelines for as long as you like, hoping that you are taking in as much information as you can while someone else is in the role, but it can never quite prepare you for taking up the reins yourself. I have always had great admiration for our previous Chairman while I worked alongside him over the years, I have even more now.

In the course of the past year we have seen people change roles within the SNC, and new people join the committee for the first time. The make up of the committee today is vastly different to the one in place not that long ago, and members of the committee are going through the process of finding their feet and establishing themselves in their posts.

To that end, and in an effort to improve both communications and visibility of the SNC, I have been taking the full committee round branches in an attempt to give the membership a better insight into the work of the committee mainly through a ‘Hustings’ type meeting within the branches. We are only half way through that process, but the feedback so far has been very positive and the branch members seem to think it has been worthwhile. Once we have completed this round of visits, we will evaluate what works and what needs to be changed in an effort to keep improving the communications between us.

HMP Low Moss

The past year has also seen the successful opening of HMP Low Moss, albeit slightly prematurely due to the ever climbing prisoner population forcing an early start for the staff within it. When we see what is happening to our colleagues in England and Wales within the competition process and the constant threat of privatisation, we should take great satisfaction to see a brand new public sector prison open here in Scotland, and never take for granted that it will always be that way.

With the new prison comes a new branch and committee of course, and I would like to take this opportunity to welcome all our new members to the POA, and give particular mention to the new committee members who have taken up the challenge. We are working alongside them just now in an effort to assist them in their respective roles, and look forward to a positive and fruitful relationship between us all.


The main issue of the whole year of course has been the pensions, and that is likely to continue to be for the foreseeable future. After what seems like an eternity we finally got to the position of the Westminster Government providing their ‘final offer’ which amounted to no more than what you retire on at the State retirement age, unless you buy and pay for the opportunity to go early. Given that we have already been ‘paying’ for that right throughout the whole of our service, as reflected in every pay deal I have ever witnessed or been involved in negotiating, it didn’t amount to an offer that was going to get any reaction other than the one it got.

10 May 2012

10 May 2012 was as inevitable as was the offer, and although much has been made of the ‘lightening strike’ on that day I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone was taken by surprise that the response was what it was. It is true, as a Union we are not renowned for downing tools and resorting to days of protest, withholding our labour, or going on strike. We are not a politically motivated or affiliated union who welcome the opportunity to stand against governments of any colour, nor do we go looking for causes to attach ourselves to.

That fact should be warning enough to the Westminster Government to listen to us when we speak, otherwise we find ourselves making sure we are heard above the din. I am not writing about this in triumphalism or in a celebratory way, nor am I looking to rub anyone’s nose in what took place that day. There is a huge irony in that every prison in Scotland was affected by strike action on 10 May, and yet we have no dispute with our employers, and are at one with the Scottish Government as to the retirement age of prison officers.

Other than the very strong response of the membership in Scotland on a day when the weather threatened otherwise, it surely cannot be lost on some when the Justice Minister in Scotland appears on TV, and in an unprecedented way states that although he was relieved that the staff were back at work, he had every sympathy with their position.

If nothing else, 10 May achieved one thing that appeared lost in this debate. It managed to highlight to the media that this wasn’t just about the generic pensions issues being faced by all public sector workers, for the first time we were
getting the message out there that prison officers will be working to a retirement age of 68. That more than any other point was what we tried to get them to listen to that day, and as the morning wore on every interview focused on that in a way that hasn’t happened until now. It is that point that we as a Union can and should expect public support over, and it is that point we should hammer home at every opportunity.

POA Scotland membership levels rising

Not just outside the service. One of the positives for me of that day was the rise in memberships to the POA in Scotland. We had over 60 on that day alone, with quite a few of those being members returning to the POA from other unions. If nothing else I think 10 May finally got over the point that while there are some pension issues that are common across the unions, there is only one union that has been involved in the negotiations over our retirement age, and only one union that that has the operational staff within the service as the group for whom we hold recognition rights.

There has been almost a 10 percent increase in the membership of the POA in Scotland in the last year alone, which is a fantastic achievement in the current climate.

To those who have returned, I say welcome home. To those still to return, haste ye back, the door is open.

Phil Fairlie
Scottish National Chair