National Chair: Violence against staff must be stopped

Heed the warnings of frontline staff or suffer the consequences of your failures

Our prisons continue to lurch from crisis to crisis with assaults on prisoners and staff spiralling to unprecedented levels that are again reaching record highs. Prison officers are now being assaulted at a rate of 26 per day with serious assaults now at an all-time high. We are expected to tolerate these intolerable working conditions until our late sixties because Lord Hutton failed to recognise us as a frontline service. Time after time both the Prisons Minister and the Secretary of State praise the work we do and in fact have stated in parliament that we are an emergency service, a uniformed service, we provide a valuable public service and we operate on the frontline. So, when are they going to approve talks between the POA and the employer to reinstate our retirement age of 60?

We launched our legal challenge to the changes imposed upon us by this Tory Government back in April and we will see it through to the bitter end, however long that may take. Surely it makes more sense to sit down with the POA and negotiate a reinstated retirement age of 60 instead of progressing with costly and time consuming court cases? I remain optimistic but will also engage my highest levels of patience.

Morale Victory

The recent announcement that PAVA will be rolled out to the closed adult male estate during all operational phases and the open estate during night patrol state is a most welcome, sensible and much needed decision. There is no doubt whatsoever that the protest action POA members where involved in on 14th September shaped this decision. Without the support of our membership the employer would still be dithering, stalling and looking for excuses not to roll it out. I know how these things work. Expecting POA members to believe this was a Prison Service decision made at board level is insulting. This decision was made by Government ministers due to the campaigning and pressure brought about by the POA and its membership. It’s a decision that we fought long and hard for and each and every one of us should be proud to be in the POA.

Fight Continues

We will continue to fight for our POA colleagues in the private sector, female estate, juvenile estate and all other work places and establishments to receive the same protections as everybody else. In order to do this we need evidence that the violence faced in these workplaces justifies the need for PAVA. I am well aware that under reporting is rife and that is why it is so important that local committees inform their NEC representatives about the true levels of violence they face. Give us the evidence so we can force the employer to issue you with PAVA. The roll out is starting in January and we are still discussing the timescales. It is the POA who are insisting that it should take no longer than 12 months to issue, whilst prioritising the most violent jails in our system regardless of any other facts. We need it so let’s
get it issued as a matter of urgency.

The recent announcement by Phillip Hammond during his budget speech that the Private Finance Initiative will be abandoned is proof that this initiative has been a complete failure and saddles the tax payer with undue debt that profiteers continue to gain reward from for forthcoming decades. Interestingly, the plan for new builds was to use the PFI model. The new build at Wellingborough will be built using public money then tendered out to private sector bidders. The decision not to allow the public sector to bid was taken by our soon to be forcibly retired CEO Michael Spurr, based on a report by what is called the Estates Transformation Team. I have asked for a copy of this report and been denied it. I have submitted a freedom of information request and been denied it. Politicians have requested it and been denied it. What exactly in this report do senior figures not wish the POA to discover? More interestingly, why are we using public money to hand over a new prison to profiteers and what will be the criteria for new build prisons now the PFI has been abandoned?

I have a sensible suggestion for this Government. Build new prisons with public money and let the public sector run them. Prisons are not for profit and safety above shareholders dividends must come first. Abandon outsourcing and invest in your public sector.

H&S not for sale

The fight to protect POA members health and safety and rights at work continues. We have two court cases to contend with. The first one from 10th-13th December at the high court in London concerns the rights of this union to negotiate on behalf of its members when changes to terms and conditions are being imposed upon them by our employer. I think it is totally unreasonable that a member who has served the majority of their career working with juveniles should be now forced to take a 2-year foundation degree in their own time or be forced into the adult estate if they refuse to do so or fail the course. Our employer thinks this is acceptable and does not affect their terms and conditions. We shall see what the judge thinks.

The second case runs from 11th–13th February 2109, again in the high court, concerning our colleagues at Lindholme who protected their rights to a safe working environment after one of their colleagues was strangled unconscious on duty. Apparently, some senior managers think it is acceptable to carry on as normal when such things occur. We think our members should have control measures in place before we run regimes. Please feel free to support your union in court if you can.

We are making gains

As the year draws to a close we should reflect on a few of our successes. We have forced the roll out of PAVA. We have an agreement in place that local committees can utilise to force safe regimes even if their senior managers refuse to do so. We continue to challenge changes to our pension scheme and retirement age. Extra funding has been afforded to prisons to improve safety and recruit extra staff. Our campaigning has initiated a consolidated pay award for closed grades at the same level as F&S. We have forced the employer to pay staff holiday entitlements for overtime they work due to the Berryman ruling. We continue to negotiate a new disputes resolution procedure. We have protected all grades off staff as OMIC is rolled out. We have campaigned and gained additional sentencing for attacks on prison staff via the protect the protector’s initiative and the Emergency Workers Bill. We have secured prosecutions for potting incidents due to an ancient law relating to noxious substances. All our prisons are now smoke free. We have been instrumental in returning the Carillion contract back into the public sector. We are challenging the employer in court over staff safety and the right to retain existing terms and conditions. HMP Birmingham has returned to the public sector due to the additional pressure the POA placed upon senior figures and we will continue to pressurise Government to return it permanently to the public domain. The POA has never been so active in the media and we are now a regular feature of both national and local news. All of these successes should be heralded and POA members should be proud of their union instead of listening to mistruths and assumptions on social media forums. We will continue to fight for your rights.

Finally, thank you for your continued support and please ensure you support each other, work safely and enjoy some downtime with those most important to you over the festive period.

All the best.

Mark Fairhurst
National Chair

Representing over 30,000 Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers, the POA is the largest UK Union in this sector, able to trace its roots back more than 100 years.