National Chair: Safety comes first before performance


I would like to start my jottings by thanking all POA members who gave up their own time and made the effort to attend the POA rally and lobby of parliament on 5th December 2017. The feedback I have received has been very positive and it is obvious that such events are not only essential in highlighting our issues to politicians, but in also enabling the POA membership to engage with Lords and politicians from all parties to inform them about the truth and the reality of everyday life on the landings.

These events cannot be highjacked by the employer or an MOJ spokesperson trotting out the same disingenuous claptrap that nothing serious is going on and we are not in crisis. The reality of our situation tells us the real story − we lurch from crisis to crisis and assaults on staff continue to rise.

Retirement age for officers

It was interesting to hear a Tory politician state that we could never be given our right to strike back because we are an essential public service. That’s quite a statement and enhances our argument for a retirement age of 60. If we are such an essential public service, then recognise us as one and give us a retirement age in line with other essential services such as the fi re and rescue service and the police.

Until we get our retirement age of 60 reinstated, these are hollow words. I eagerly await a decision by government to re-engage on lowering our retirement age.

Our right to strike

As for our right to strike, we will never give up on this issue. It is a worker’s basic human right to withdraw their labour if they have a genuine trade dispute. It seems that if you are a prison officer you can be used as a modern day slave and be forced to perform tasks that offer no monetary compensation. Working until 68 offers no compensation to a#burnt out and demoralised workforce, neither does a disputes procedure that offers no outcome and is often ignored. If the judiciary and government think that is fair then they need to spend a week on the landings enjoying a large portion of reality.

Staffing levels

The main reasons our prisons are not safe is because staffing levels are too low, or senior managers refuse to listen to the real concerns of their staff. All too often, I am informed of diabolical decisions made by managers that totally demoralise and undermine staff along with the control and discipline within establishments.

The time has now come for all POA members to make a stand against managers who refuse to take staff safety seriously, and I would urge all members to work safely. You will always be supported by the POA#if you do. Even senior HMPPS leaders have stated that “safety comes before performance”. It’s a pity some of their governors refuse to acknowledge this. We need to get back to basics and ensure that control, order and discipline are the foundations that embed a safe regime. All too often, staff are put at risk in the name of unlock and frequently, this means unsafe supervisory levels, too many prisoners unlocked and a serious lack of purposeful activity.

Safe regimes

There is no longer an excuse to not have a fi t-for-purpose regime management plan, and there is even less of an excuse to not adhere to it in an attempt to run a full regime at all costs. The safest regimes I have witnessed have moved away from a full unlock simply because it makes sense. How often do establishments contend with aggression from a fully unlocked wing when staff answer an alarm bell? Surely it makes more sense to have only half a wing unlocked with adequate staff to respond and quell any potential or actual signs of indiscipline?

If government and HMPPS leaders are serious about rehabilitation, then unlocking prisoners for games of ping-pong and pool must stop and be replaced with meaningful skills that enhance employability. Let’s hope a major investment is on its way.


I recently visited our members at Oakwood, which is run by G4S. I was impressed by the modern facilities and some innovative initiatives that addressed prisoners’ needs. They also had more work spaces for prisoners than public sector prisons, which proves that if you invest − outcomes can be favourable.

As POA members, our private sector brothers and sisters are part of our family and we must remember that a punch from a prisoner in the private sector hurts just as much as a punch from a prisoner in the public sector. We all look after the same people and we all face the same risks.

Working conditions

It is highly unlikely that future new builds will remain entirely in the public sector with a Tory government in place, so it is important that we continue to fight for improved working conditions for our private sector members. Their staffing levels are unsafe, they never curtail regimes even if they are short of staff and they are expected to unlock on time even if the role is late, which means they hardly ever receive a lunch hour. On the plus side, G4s staff retire aged 60 and we have collective bargaining rights at Oakwood and Birmingham over pay. It is essential that the POA continue to press for recognition rights in all private sector establishments; so we may continue to make a difference. We will always pressure government to return the private sector back into the public, but while they remain part of the POA, we all need to support them and fi ght for their rights.

Pay award

The employer will soon be submitting their recommendations for a pay award for 2018/19. I hope that now the public sector pay cap is no more, our employer submits that all grades receive an above inflation pay rise. Ignoring closed grades or attempting to divide staff will not be tolerated. All public sector workers, including operational prison staff, deserve to be rewarded and recognised.

Use your vote

As the year progresses, the membership will be asked to elect a significant number of NEC officials. This is your chance to shape the future of this Union and put people in place who you believe will fight your corner. You cannot do this unless you vote and I would urge all members to read the election addresses and exercise their right to vote.

At the time of writing, just over 3,600 members had registered their pension challenge online. I would like to thank all members for participating with this challenge and hope that by the time you read this both the judges and fire fighters court ruling has been favourable.

Finally, please ensure you stick together and support each other. By staying strong we can achieve a safer working environment and ensure our concerns are taken seriously. We will continue to insist that the issues that affect you the most are addressed.

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.