General Secretary

August 2008 | 01.08.2008

Working for a better future - Partnership versus Constructive Dialogue and tolerance?


The membership is rightly concerned at this time regarding the future of the Prison Service, as the Lead Negotiators seek to hammer out the basic principles Workforce Modernisation (WFM). 

For many of our long serving members this process with all its uncertainties and rumours will take their minds back to the common working agreement and Fresh Start.

There is of course one big difference with WFM and that is that all of our members are aware that the Government is seeking to make huge multi-million pounds savings from the Prison Service, through the outcome of this process.

It would of course be wrong to speculate on the outcome of WFM, other than to say any decision will be addressed by Branch “Roadshow” Meetings by the National Executive Committee, a Special Delegates Conference to discuss all related matters and a Workplace ballot to ultimately determine whether any new working scheme is acceptable to the POA or not.

Communicating at these times of early engagement is difficult for any organisation, more so for the POA because of the suspicions and hurt felt by our members towards the Government and Prison Service Management.  Too much “none information” is equally as bad as too little information.  

The National Executive Committee will give full and proper information as it becomes available and in a timely way.  What we can not and will not do is speculate on any outcomes.  Our view is very simple and should be understood by the membership. Where change is to be accepted all aspects of that change must be visible and understood in both effect and consequence by the whole of the POA membership, before acceptance can be sought.

Trade Union Rights

The membership will be aware, of the current position regarding the work being taken forward by the Unions Legal Team from the informative National Chairman’s Address (Issue 35) on this subject.  It is however, important that all members of the Union, ensure that they are fully conversant with the demands of the POA for trade union rights.  No POA member should miss any opportunity to put forward to members of the general public the need for Prison Officers to be treated no differently than any other Public Servant.  Prison Officers should have the ability to negotiate from a position of equal authority with the Employer, which must always include the right to restrict or withdraw their labour, whilst maintaining our view that where we are treated fairly industrial and strike action should not need to be contemplated.

Adult Learning Week

As part of the Union input to Adult Union Learning Week, it was a great pleasure to have John Hoey Branch Chairman Lancaster Farms, attached to me to follow my diary on the week commencing the 19th May 2008.

John accompanied me in a very busy week, which unusually found me away from Cronin House and at Conferences at points along the South Coast for PCS and the Police Federation and attending the FBU Conference at Southport.

I know that John fully enjoyed the experience of engaging with other Senior Trade Union and Police Federation Representatives and seeing how well received the POA is across the broader labour movement.

John was a credit to the POA, showing patience and understanding and an eagerness to listen to the other Unions problems.  I thank John for his professional attitude during this week and I look forward to having other members attached to me in the future.

Industrial Relations (Those in the establishment call it Employee Relations)

Clear signals are now coming from the Prison Service Management Board, that they wish to have stability with the Trade Union Side.  Whilst this is to be applauded, no one should be surprised that our suspicions are aroused.  We would all wish to have a good relationship with Managers who fully recognise the worth of their staff, recognise the POA as a free and independent Trade Union and seek to build mutual trust and respect; these are the fundamental aspects in the development and growth of any relationship that seeks to be constructive.  It is also right that both sides Union and Management, need to set aside historical biases mistrust and personality driven dislikes, if the light of positive working is to be illuminated.

It remains my view as the General Secretary, that the POA as a Union, our officials at both local and national level and our Full Time Officers are better placed to step from the shadows, than is the Prisons Board. The POA will always be willing to be tolerant of Management bad practice, where the Prisons Board seeks to put it right, but we ask the question, will the POA receive the same tolerance from the Leadership of the Prison Service?

And Finally …

The membership will appreciate the long history of the POA, those who formed that history and those that reflect upon it.  I have never been one throughout my time as a Trade Unionist to re-write history, what happens in the past should stay there and certainly not be regurgitated and spun into any kind of covert offensive remarks.  It is my view that the leadership of the POA will always make mistakes, but it makes them together in Unity and for the right reason.  That reason will always be the best interest of the membership.

Brian Caton
General Secretary