National Chair

Oct 2011 | 26.10.2011

Strategic Choices


As a Trade Union, we mush be prepared to make strategic choices

Leadership requires your elected representatives to be proactive and decisive in protecting terms and conditions within a clear and defined framework of conference motions. The NEC continues to work to re-establish an industrial relations environment that recognises collective bargaining. As Trade Unionists we cannot accept changes to the terms and conditions of employment without collective bargaining. The aim is the partnership model based on a balance of interests, equality and mutual respect.

Nevertheless, I would hope that the wider membership recognises that viable negotiation and constructive dialogue with the employer and politicians based on trust has to be beneficial in protecting and promoting the interests of the POA. Colleagues, if we do not recognise and accept the difference between what is achievable and what is aspirational then we must expect to fail. In my opinion, the privatisation of Birmingham and the subsequent re-ballot on industrial action began the process and provided a painful but long-awaited and much needed reality check.

Again in my opinion, if the POA were to react on an issue with little or no realistic prospect of success then we can forget about achieving any number of essential goals. To remind you, the NEC is currently engaged in intense negotiations on the following:

• JES and pay protection
• Avoidance of any compulsory redundancies
• Pensionable age in line with the other uniformed services
• Compensatory measures in line with the recommendations of the International Labour Organisation
• Facility Time
• The Code of Conduct.

We must not give the Coalition Government and/or the employer any reason, opportunity or excuse to withdraw from these negotiations. Furthermore, it is essential to recognise how and when to exert pressure on the employer and politicians. Media campaigns and press releases cannot be haphazard but need to be accurate and targeted to form part of an overall strategy. We often ask you to be patient, which can understandably result in frustration, but please recognise that the POA must be prepared to make strategic choices.

YOU can influence the future of the POA

We cannot hope to achieve our aims until the majority of the membership engages with the NEC. As part of that engagement please make every effort to complete the membership survey produced by the NEC, which is designed to establish what matters to you and drive forward your agenda. Please ensure that you do not miss this opportunity to influence the future direction of the POA. As working people, that engagement needs to be influenced by our workplace environment yes, but we cannot ignore the wider economic and social influences that we operate within.

The NEC was pleased to note that the work of our members in the aftermath of the riots has been recognised by Crispin Blunt and other politicians. Prisons worked through the night to process and accommodate those sentenced by the courts, freeing up spaces in an already overcrowded and volatile estate and reinforced the fact that prison officers are important and essential in the protection of the public. Please do not underestimate this recognition, as in the past politicians have often failed to acknowledge our role on behalf of society. We need to build on this recognition and ensure that the public are aware of the role of prisons and their staff in protecting the public.

Party conferences

As this issue of Gatelodge went to press the conference season was upon us. At the TUC Congress the POA aimed to engender maximum publicity and support for the long awaited launch of our European case. I place on record my thanks to the NEC, full-time officers, secretarial support and the legal team who have finally made it a reality. The financial support of the membership through their contribution to the political fund has been essential. On behalf of the NEC, thank you. There can of course be no guarantees of a successful outcome but the POA, without wishing to appear too naïve, expects fairness and justice to prevail. At the very least it keeps the argument regarding trade union rights in the mix and reminds the TUC movement of the unfair treatment of this essential but undervalued section of the workforce. We also aim to remind Government that currently there are no adequate compensatory mechanisms in place for the removal of our legitimate rights, not only in pay but in dispute resolution.

The General Secretary and I will be moving motions on behalf of the POA. I will be moving a motion on the working week in prisons, which is likely to be somewhat contentious among other trade unions. I anticipate that concerns will be raised regarding pay rates, the issue of “forced labour” within prisons and the potential loss of outside employment for law abiding citizens in the midst of the current recession.

Fringe meetings

At the three party political conferences the POA has arranged for dedicated forum/fringe meetings which will be facilitated by the New Statesmen. This is a new venture for the POA which we hope will increase our visibility. Invitations to all three events have been accepted by leading politicians and interest groups. The General Secretary and I will take it in turn to represent and promote the POA in these forums.

We can expect a lively debate given the renewed interest in the Criminal Justice system. The POA has always had a view but new interest has been generated by the “Rehabilitation Revolution” alongside an aggressive market testing policy, payment by results, the 40 hour working week, social impact bonds and sentencing policy.

Prison works

Prison does work and must continue to work effectively to protect society. The argument for restorative justice, rehabilitation and the central role of punishment is well made. Unfortunately, politicians appear more interested in scoring points against their opponents in Parliament. A far more constructive use of their time would be to consult and listen attentively to the staff who run and manage the prison system. The POA does not accept that the penal system is broken. However, it is clear that chronic underinvestment and constant and unending change over many years have alienated staff.

Bizarre statements by the Justice Secretary

Meanwhile, the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, continues to feature in the newspaper headlines with his increasingly bizarre statements. He claims that the recent riots on the streets of Britain were a wake-up call for the Criminal Justice system pointing to previous conviction rates and gang membership of those involved. Unfortunately, as with so many of his recent statements the research was found wanting. Love him or loathe him he was, during his previous stint in the Thatcherite Government, a consummate politician. Doubts fi rst surfaced when he was asked how he would measure the success of failure of his penal policy and he stated that he did not have the first idea. Prisons and custodial settings can often be dangerous and volatile places. Staff are under enormous pressure with inadequate reward. We deserve better than ill-judged comments that lack clarity and competent research. I look forward to the forthcoming cabinet reshuffle.