Scotland

General News, Articles and Information from The POA North of the Border:

11.08.2014

The ongoing campaign on pensions strategy

Gary, a POA member at HMP Barlinnie, recently wrote to Phil Fairlie, Chairman of POA Scotland about the POA's position on pensions.

Gary was concerned because he hadn’t heard that any information about pensions was reaching the membership. his email to Phil stated:

“I am concerned that we are now into our second year of increased pension contributions, having previously been told that the union would not stand for this. I am also concerned that there has been no movement on retirement age and the Government’s refusal to recognise us as an emergency service.

“I am finding it even more demoralising when I see colleagues in PCS and FBU taking decisive strike action in order to fight this disgraceful stance whilst a perceived state of indifference appears evident within our organisation.

“I am aware that negotiations are possibly ongoing but I, and others are becoming more and more frustrated and demoralised by the continuing threat of increased retirement age.”

Phil Fairlie responded by email, and the local branch rep circulated both emails to the membership at HMP Barlinnie. Phil was asked to circulate it to the wider membership so we have published Phil’s response here below.

Phil said: “While my email is responding to Gary’s points, the consensus seems to be that it contains helpful information as to what is going on in the background as we continue to pursue pension justice. While it will not be to everyone’s liking in terms of how they think the issue should be dealt with, it makes clear that there is some work ongoing with a longer-term strategy than simply protesting on its own.”

 

Phil’s email

Hi Gary

Firstly can I say that I appreciate the measured tone of your email given the levels of frustration there are over this issue, and with a day of industrial action fast approaching at the time of you writing, I fully understand the points being made and the questions being asked.You are right to say that there is no movement on our retirement age, and that the government still do not recognise us as a uniform service. (It is uniform service status we are seeking as opposed to ‘emergency’, for pension purposes).

When we say government, we mean Westminster gov’t of course. Following on from extensive lobbying by us, Scottish government have already said that they regard us now as a uniform service, and that with full powers over our pension provision, they will seek to amend the retirement age for prison officers and bring us in to line with other uniform services.You will be aware that as a union we took the decision to support the ‘Yes’ campaign at our annual conference for that very reason. Part of our strategy for pursuing these matters was to seek something of substance to use as leverage with other parties who may have control over our pay and pensions, and we believe we have that with the commitment from the present Scottish government.

Since that time, we have continued to pursue the matter in a variety of different ways and in a variety of different places. Our colleagues down south continue to lobby the UK gov’t and UK parties of opposition while working alongside colleagues on theTUC in an attempt to negotiate change. In Scotland we have being similarly lobbying politicians and parties other than the SNP, and have invited the shadow Justice Spokesman twice now to meet with us and discuss what support he and his party will offer.To date he has not taken up the offer to meet with us.

Given that we could not get them to come to us, we decided we would go to them. We took out a stall at the Labour party conference this year, for the first time in our history, where we further pushed the ‘68 is Too Late’ message. We received a fair bit of attention at the conference along with individual support from some elected MPs and MSPs. We advised them that we would be writing to them formally and seeking their support to have included in their party manifesto for the General election, a commitment to recognise us as a uniformed service, and a commitment to have our retirement age reflect that.Those letters are in the process of being produced as we speak, and they will be sent along with flyers and information leaflets we produced making our case.

As well as handing those flyers out at the Labour party conference, we also distributed them at the STUC conference in April where again, we were given significant support for recognising prison officers as ‘operational’. We addressed a motion at the STUC conference calling for recognition of specific jobs being age restrictive and attracting a different retirement age, and the motion was carried unanimously.The General Council will now use that motion in an attempt to pursue some dialogue both with Scottish Government and with opposition parties.

While on their own these things may not seem like much or are able to point to change having been achieved yet, collectively they form part of a wider strategy to continuously pursue all parties who are likely to have control over our retirement age, either here or in Westminster and confront them with the arguments as to why we want change. We have also used the POA’s twitter account to push our support for the ‘Yes’ campaign, highlighting to everyone that the only source of support for our position comes from the Scottish Government, in an attempt to have others re-think their stance.

I appreciate it’s a slow process, and for the membership who are not involved in these things it can seem like nothing is happening.That is always particularly prevalent when a day of industrial action is looming and we are not involved in it. I am not against the industrial action that has just taken place, and I fully support those unions who were out onThursday. We have been there with them ourselves in the past as you know. I have always said though, that I do not believe it is the only way to affect change and we should not rely on it as our only weapon. I notice you describe the unions who were out as taking ‘decisive’ action and I would not criticise that in one context. Decisive in bringing about change however is not something that can be claimed yet, given that it clearly has not to date. Ironically, the only change that has come about at all since the introduction of the Bill has been the formal commitment given to the POA in Scotland to recognise us as a uniformed service, and to make changes to our retirement age as soon as they have the power to do so. We have very close contact (and support) with our colleagues in the FBU for example, and although the Scottish members were not out on strike this week, the FBU in England and Wales have been out on approx. 15 separate occasions so far, and have not had any movement on the issues to date that they are striking for. We take no pleasure in that statistic and have every sympathy for their plight, but equally I do not want, nor do I believe our membership want, to find themselves in a similar situation with no results to show for it.

I should be clear and say that I am not suggesting we should not be involved in days of industrial action; we have been in the past with varying results. I am clear in my own mind though, that we should do more than simply be seen to publicly protest at what has happened, and take every opportunity through every avenue to genuinely seek to bring about the change we want. It is too big an issue for us as a membership to do anything less.

Can I finish by saying that the frustration you feel along with other members is entirely shared by me and my colleagues in the SNC. It is that frustration and sense of injustice that will ensure we continue to pursue this issue on all our behalf, no matter what happens in the referendum, and no matter who ends up in Gov’t with the control over our pensions.

Kind regards

Phil Fairlie Chairman,
POA Scotland