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As I write this article a second wave of COVID-19 is taking place and a National Lockdown will start in England on the 5th November until 2nd December 2020. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own restrictions but differ to England.
POA MEMBERS PROUD KEYWORKERS
No matter where our members work in the United Kingdom they have shown strength and resilience against an unseen enemy and I am very proud of the actions of POA members up and down the country as keyworkers whether that is in a prison, immigration centre or the NHS in our secure hospitals.
Who could have foreseen a pandemic on a scale such as this and it has brought many challenges for POA members and their families. This Trade Union has worked collaboratively and diligently with various employers to ensure our members interests have been looked after during this horrific year. Never did I envisage as General Secretary that 2020 would be dominated by a global pandemic. The POA has demonstrated, as have our members, that there is a togetherness and resilience to see us through this pandemic. Unfortunately, no-one has a crystal ball and nobody can second guess how long this terrible pandemic is going to last. It is impossible to plan anything for the future. Like all other Trade Unions the POA reluctantly had to cancel its conference in 2020 and we can plan for one in 2021 but I cannot say with any confidence or certainty that it will actually take place and that concerns me greatly as our annual conference is our show piece where the members set policy for the union. It is our Parliament and the heart of our democracy and I would hope that we can indeed hold conference come 2021 but the most important issue is the health and safety of our members, their families and indeed those in our care. Safety and preserving life must come as a priority over everything.
SECURING SAFETY MEASURES
I recognise that it is frustrating locking up offenders for long periods of time but if we are to ensure this pandemic does not get a grip of our establishments then employers and the POA must continue to work together to achieve the safety for all and put out joint messages and communications where we can. I have been impressed with all our employers where we have recognition arrangements in place. The POA NEC and our elected local committee’s have done magnificent work on the members behalf to ensure your voice is heard with those respective employers and long may it continue as the POA always have been part of the solution and not the problem.
In times of crisis it is pleasing to note that industrial relations have been at its best with negotiations and consultation taking place at local and national level. That demonstrates to me that the POA are taken seriously by employers and Government and I want that attitude to continue long after this pandemic has gone.
But there can be no turning the clock back and pandering to return to what some described as normal prior to this pandemic. I do not want a return to the so called normal of budget cuts, austerity measures where pay and pensions were eradicated and staffing levels fell. Looking forward it cannot fall on POA members and other public sector workers to pay for this pandemic with further cuts to their living standards. POA members deserve far better, they have been tremendous during this difficult period but that didn’t come as a surprise to me as over the last 30 years that I have been around our members wherever they work have been a success in the workplace.
ILLNESS IN RESPECT OF COVID-19
In respect of this global pandemic sadly this year there have been deaths and serious illness for our members and their families and indeed those prisoners in our care. We are not out the woods as yet and that is why it worries me when I read about the conspiracy theorists stating this is a made pandemic and we are being ruled by fear. Whilst I will always respect everyone has the right to an opinion and be heard this pandemic is real it is not made up and I have visited some of our sick members who were recovering from this horrible illness when they have been unfortunate to succumb to the virus. I have seen first-hand how it has affected them and their loved ones. It is real and a definite threat because there is no vaccine. Over 30 million individuals have caught the virus globally it is a real threat and must be taken seriously. I understand the effect it has on the economy but for any economy to thrive you need workers so the health of everyone is vital in having an effective economy.
LEARNING ABOUT THE VIRUS
I sincerely hope that going into 2021 we will learn more about the virus and that an effective vaccine will be produced so that restrictions can be lifted not just in our Prisons, Secure Hospitals and Immigration Centres, where most of our POA membership work, but in our communities up and down the length of the country. The POA and other trade unions along with the TUC must play a leading role in shaping the future to ensure jobs, pay, terms and conditions are not affected.
UNITED, MORE RESILIENT AND MENTALLY TOUGHER
As your General Secretary I understand that this has been a massively challenging year for POA members and your families and I cannot actually think of a tougher year than 2020 in modern times but I am sure we will all come out the other end more united, more resilient and mentally tougher. 2020 is a year that has taken up so much time on combatting the virus and since March 2020 not a day has passed without dialogue on policy in the workplace to ensure safety. It seems that other issues have been placed on the back burner and everything has been dominated by this virus and attempting to slow it down. Only time will tell if all our efforts are going to work.
I want all our POA members to have a safe Christmas with their loved ones and as we enter 2021 that it is healthy and prosperous for our fantastic POA members. Thank you for everything you do and your continued support to this trade union.
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.