Over the weekend great swathes of the population have been placed into Tier 4 with clear advice from Government regarding the clinically extremely vulnerable, that this group is advised to stay at home at all times, unless for exercise or medical appointments, and not to attend work, even if they are unable to work from home. The group list of extremely vulnerable has been updated on the website.

Keyworkers are expected to attend for work unless they have tested positive for COVID or have been contacted by test and trace to self- isolate, or indeed are showing signs of COVID.

As I write this up-date I have been made aware that two of our colleagues and POA members have sadly died from suspected COVID related issues. A separate POA Circular will come out once the branches involved have given permission to release their names. All through this year I have had to report by Circular regretfully colleagues and indeed those in our care dying due to this dangerous pandemic. This pandemic should not be under- estimated in any way shape or form.

The POA NEC have and will continue to work in a partnership approach with employers and Government officials but this should not be taken as totally unconditional. During the course of this year as the only recognised Trade Union in public sector prisons for unified grades in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland we have managed to shape our respective employers’ position and altered their view on many issues to safeguard their employees and indeed our members through constructive dialogue.

In the NHS we work with other recognised Trade Unions in that setting in a proactive manner at Carstairs, Ashworth, Rampton and Broadmoor and we will continue to do so. I am pleased that the vaccine for staff at Carstairs is taking place and there has been a very large take up. Whilst I would always recognise the right of staff not to volunteer to have the vaccine as a responsible trade union I would always encourage individuals where it is safe to do so to have the vaccine as a protective measure. We continue to engage with employers’ to ensure the roll out in a timely manner is taking place. Obviously, we will continue to make the case that as keyworkers then we should be a priority.

Where we have recognition rights in the private sector with Mitie, G4S, Sodexo and SERCO we continue to have constructive dialogue and challenge where necessary to ensure our members terms and conditions are adhered to during the pandemic and encouraging Ministers to relax contracts to ensure our members are fully protected. On the whole we have been very successful and building up a reputation in the private sector of not just looking for problems but also seeking solutions because we have the experience of many years dealing with complex issues in our Prisons system.

It would be very easy for me to go on the attack regarding the lack of clarity from the Prime Minister briefings or to criticise the lack of opposition from the other political parties, but I am not sure that would be helpful. It is very frustrating though when ludicrous statements are made effectively making promises such as we would be back to normal by Christmas, then we were not to then make promises that all would be well by Easter 2021. No real leader would make predictions or promises they had no control over and the Prime Minister should be listening more to the scientific advice rather making statements which he thinks will make him popular.

I will not make any predictions for 2021 but there is still so much to learn about this pandemic and from the first lockdown back in March 2020 the approach that we have had in the POA is one of caution and that is what we have encouraged our employers’ to do and on the whole they have been in agreement with us and where we have not been able to reach agreement we will hold them accountable as we will rely on our written objections on different subject matters if it places the health and safety of our members or those in our care in danger. Our priorities have been clear and will continue going forward and those will be preservation of life, safe and decent regimes, and the health and safety of all who live and work in our establishments.

The POA do not want to see prisoners locked up unnecessarily but we will want to ensure it is safe before employers’ expand regimes and at the moment all the scientific evidence points towards things getting worse before they get better. I recognise that hope is there with the production of vaccines but the Oxford vaccine even when it has been signed off is produced in Germany and the Netherlands. The questions remain unanswered as to whether there will be a delay once Brexit comes to fruition in getting them into the country. With the Pfizer vaccine which has been signed off only 500,000 vaccines have taken place and already it has been admitted the roll- out is behind schedule.

The cautious approach is a necessity given the environment POA members work in. The scientists have been clear that the original COVID 19 has mutated and there was evidence of this in September 2020 and it will probably continue to mutate testing our resilience to get it under control. I am not an expert and don’t pretend to be an expert in the pandemic. What I definitely know as well is that no politician is an expert on this pandemic and therefore, they should listen to the medical experts and not allow the pandemic to get out of control any further and stop making pledges they have no control over. The POA fought hard to get our employer to issue face masks and we would encourage our members to wear them for protection of themselves and those in our care. Clearly for medical reasons there will always be exemptions, but we fought hard since March and our constructive input made the employer do a u- turn.

I recognise that our POA members wherever they work have been absolutely magnificent during this terrible year. Many of our members as keyworkers will be working over Christmas and the New Year in very difficult circumstances. I have only focussed on COVID-19 in this update and I will be updating you in due course on many other issues that the POA are dealing with on your behalf.

As we come to year end, I am also very proud of the support staff, DGS, and FTO’s who would normally be working at Cronin House, Linden House, Castell House and Calder Road as they have been quite simply magnificent throughout the year working on your behalf. I also want to pay tribute to our Honorary Life Members many of whom work on your behalf as directed by conference as Conduct Committee members. Our retired members committee who are making inroads in looking after our retired members and finally the Welfare Committee who have dealt superbly with so many sad cases this year in assisting our members and their families in their time of need. The POA will go from strength to strength with your continued support in 2021 and we will come out the other end and defeat this pandemic. Wishing you all a safe Christmas and a Healthy New Year in 2021.

Yours Sincerely

General Secretary

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.