National Chair

Dec 2011 | 22.12.2011

Strategic Choices


In recent articles, I have pointed to the strategic choices that our Union may need to make in order to protect and preserve the pay, pensions and terms and conditions of the membership. I asked you to be patient and that we expected to have answers by the end of the year.

As I prepare this article the Fair and Sustainable document – the introduction of new working structures in HM Prison Service - has been published by the employer. The Annex A has been received by the recognised trade unions and the 28-day period of consultation will conclude on 12 December 2011. NOMS will by now have provided you with the opportunity to comment, raise issues and seek clarification on the document. It is in your interest to engage in the process. I believe that there is scope for some further improvements and clarifications to be made but essentially, the proposed new working structures are contained within the document.

The NEC has endorsed the document and there will be a Special Delegates Conference in January to be followed by a ballot of the affected membership. The POA will communicate with the membership to provide clarification on the document and answers to questions and queries which will inevitably arise.

NOMS have invited the trade unions to participate in a series of road shows aimed at all sections of the workforce. The NEC has accepted this invitation and further agreed to my participation in a HMPS video presentation on workforce restructure. In doing so we are sending a clear message that the NEC are endorsing the document and working with NOMS to overcome the problems we face. We will continue to have differences and disputes  with NOMS but we recognise that competition policy, the pay freeze, issues with facility time and pensions are disputes with politicians and not with the immediate employer.

Preserving pay and conditions

Change is never comfortable and the prison service has endured its fair share and more in recent years. The “Heads of Agreement” discussions failed, WFM was rejected by the membership but led to the introduction of ill-conceived structural changes. We now have an opportunity to revisit these structural changes and preserve pay and conditions.
Our approach to the implementation of the Job Evaluation Scheme ( JES) and workforce restructure is directed by conference policy i.e., no detriment to pay and terms and conditions of current staff . We are pleased that following intense lobbying by the trade unions that actual job descriptions have replaced the generic task models. We do not accept that the published JES correctly weights the job that we do.

Legal advice confirms that there are no changes to terms and conditions. It is not mark time pay and the POA will continue to make submissions to the Pay Review Body. This document promises to provide a structured and attainable opportunity for promotion. The document states that there will be no surplus OSGs, Prison Officers, Senior Officers or Principal Officers as a direct result of this process. I can do nothing about off ers of voluntary redundancy. If you are approached by the employer and accept a voluntary departure package then that is a decision for you and your family. For the POA to negotiate a position where we avoid compulsory redundancy, in the midst of the current recession, is a success.

Market testing

Competition within the public sector is a difficult subject for a public sector trade union. We do not accept the need for market testing but the reality is that all three political parties support the competition of our prisons. All of our prisons face market testing in the years to come. The Coalition Government wanted to market test 25 of our prisons in the latest round but settled reluctantly on eight. NOMS insists that workforce restructure can provide significant savings and help to level the playing field with private sector competitors. Colleagues; we must provide our prisons with the opportunity to win.

NOMS will move to introduce new workforce structures. So why you may ask are we planning to ballot the membership? The ballot will maintain our enviable tradition of seeking the views of the membership through the established democratic process. In addition, if the membership votes to endorse the Fair and Sustainable document it becomes a collective agreement with concomitant benefits.

Please read the document and engage with your branch committee and national representatives.


As we go to press, discussions on pensions are on-going. The NEC continues to press the Coalition Government on the pensionable age for operational prison grades and related issues. Again we can do little about the retirement age. There are currently four OSGs working in the prison service in their seventies. Staff choose to remain in work for a variety of reasons. However, our members must retain the opportunity to retire at their agreed pensionable age with no reduction in entitlements. We remain optimistic that the Coalition Government will listen to reason and recognise that we are a uniformed service.

Nevertheless, the NEC is well aware of the mandate given by the membership to defend our pensions. You will find that pensions are covered in more detail in other sections of this edition of Gatelodge.

Facility time

You will recall that Vice Chairman, Tom Robson and his team, with input from the membership, were negotiating in good faith with NOMS on the issue of national and local facility time. The employer had given 12 months notice of withdrawal from the existing arrangements. The Coalition Government has now instructed all employers in the public sector to cease negotiations with the trade unions. Henceforth, the Cabinet Office will conduct negotiations directly with trade unions. This is not good news. As a lay-led trade union any significant reduction in paid facility time at local and national level will change the dynamics of the trade union. To date, we have not been notified of the arrangements for these negotiations but we will keep you informed.

Frankland court case

Following the decision to find a serving prisoner not guilty of the assault of three of our members at HMP Frankland all avenues of legal redress are being pursued. Any redress has to be at the behest of the three members and their wishes and needs will be central to our decision making. The NEC was pleased to note that senior police officers have condemned the decision and that politicians are raising questions in Parliament on our behalf.

The message from an NEC led by this National Chairman has to be clear. If the Government, the judiciary and the employer cannot (or will not) protect prison staff then the POA will. Pay and terms and conditions are important but in an operational environment safety remains our overriding concern. We may be undervalued and underpaid but we must be safe and secure within the workplace.

The subject of body armour and pepper spray divides opinion. I am continually told that our prisons only work on the basis of co-operation and mutual respect between staff and the prisoners in our care. In my personal view our prisons have changed in the last five to 10 years. Prisons are populated by increasing numbers of violent and unpredictable prisoners many with psychological and mental health issues. Again, our prisons are holding increasing numbers of prisoners with no realistic prospect of release due to the nature of their crimes.

We will continue to manage our prisons with care and compassion but we do not come to work to be punched, stabbed and medically retired. We will revisit the issue of safety in the workplace in future editions of Gatelodge but the message from this Trade Union is clear:

Northern Ireland

Our colleagues in Northern Ireland face workforce restructure on an unprecedented scale. Finlay and his team are currently in the midst of intense negotiations with the employer on a new working model and the exit packages at would accompany such a restructure.
I was pleased to see that politicians have supported the clear and unequivocal position of the POA that prison staff are employees of the Crown. In my opinion, any attempt to remove the HMP insignia in England, Wales and Scotland would be met with resistance. We must not forget, that in Northern Ireland between 1942 and 1993, 30 of our colleagues were murdered and others severely injured as members of HMP Prison Service.


I attended the Scottish Conference in Peebles. Phil Fairlie in his first conference as Chairman conducted business as the seasoned professional we know him to be. There was no doubting the unity north of the border. The partnership approach between Trade Union and employer continues. I will now meet with Phil on a bi–monthly basis to ensure that our working relationship develops to benefit all POA members.

In closing, I send seasonal greetings to all POA members and their family and friends on behalf of the NEC.

As we move into 2012 we do it together with common goals, aspirations and a determination to succeed.