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Update for Membership
NEC Representation for Midlands Area
Reward Package Details
Reporting Coronavirus Sickness Procedures Information
Letters to Secretary of State Robert Buckland MP QC and Phil Copple Director Public Sector Prisons
MEMBERSHIP UPDATE: CORONAVIRUS
We wish to update you on the current situation in relation to the Coronavirus outbreak and your personal safety. We have been working in unison with both the Government and HMPPS to ensure you are as safe as you possibly can be. Please be aware of the following:
There is an international shortage of Personal Protective Equipment (gowns, goggles, face masks), and HMPPS are planning to ‘ration’ the supplies they have so all Prisons have some stock. HMPPS have secured 50,000 sets and are delivering them to regional hubs. Supplies should be with you shortly and HMPPS have further stock on order. SMT’s have been instructed to ensure PPE is worn when dealing with Prisoners displaying symptoms or having been confirmed as having COVID-19. If you do not have the resource in place to adhere to this, please liaise with your SMT so they may source PPE from their local NHS trust (this has been working well).
There is a nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer. The NHS have been prioritised for its issue. You are encouraged to install portable hand wash basins so staff can wash their hands upon entry to their workplace/station and continue to regularly wash their hands whilst at work.
We have agreed a COVID 19 Operational Guidance, that will cover all aspects of regime restrictions and depleted staffing levels. Local committees should liaise with their SMT’S to formulate an Exceptional Regime Management Plan (facility time has been approved).
Prisons are encouraged to adopt the temperature checks at their gates for visitors to Prisons. We believe this should be extended for staff. The operational guidance allows for visits to be restricted or curtailed. The POA are relaying all your concerns to HMPPS and the Secretary of State. The ultimate decision to stop all visits is out of the control of the POA, but in light of Public Health England and the Governments advice, we are pursuing all options and have relayed your concerns to the Director for Public Sector Prisons and the Secretary of State for Justice, (See enclosed Letters).
The most recent announcement from the Prime Minister would indicate that Prisons now need to adhere to the strict advice of non-association and curtailing visits and transfers. The POA await what we see as an imminent announcement to Governors that reflect the restrictions that now need to be enacted.
The full-time officials of the POA continue to engage with Private Sector providers, Secure Healthcare Services and Escort Services to highlight your concerns and ensure safe working practices are adopted.
Staff from HQ will be redeployed into prisons to assist. The NEC will continue with the business of the POA so you may contact us 24/7 for advice, support and guidance. We stand ready to redeploy to our home establishments should we be required.
A range of measures have been put in place to protect vulnerable staff who have underlying health conditions. A Q&A sheet and a Joint Statement between the POA and HMPPS will be published in due course. If any staff have conditions that have been identified by Public Health England as placing people at an increased risk, they should inform their local POA committee and their line manager, so precautions are put in place. This may include self-isolating, working in an ancillary role away from the frontline or continuing with your current duties at your own request. These conditions include the following:
1. Solid organ transplant recipients.
2. People with specific cancers:
• people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
• people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
• people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
• people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
• people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
4. People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
6. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
The Government have also highlighted that staff with diabetes should observe social distancing. If you suffer from diabetes please follow the same procedures as highlighted above.
If you are a pregnant member of staff, you are classed as vulnerable to COVID 19 under Public Health England/Wales Guidance. HMPPS will take all reasonable steps to ensure that you are able to work remotely if you request this through your line manager. It is the POA view that you should stay away from your workplace until further notice.
A reward package has been agreed that increases the salary of staff in our high-risk workplace. All staff who are able to do so may consider opting into these schemes in order to avoid the need for operational emergencies being called. OSG staff should note that If a part-time OSG agrees to sign up to the 12-week overtime contract they will attract the full bonus for completing the full additional hours (it won’t be pro-rata). We have agreed this scheme for operational grades band 2-5 and have no control over other aspects of the scheme for other grades of staff. This package is the best that could be achieved and has been authorised by the Treasury.
We have suggested that the abatement rules governing staff who work part time but draw their pension should be relaxed so they may increase their hours without financial detriment if they wish to do so during this period. We await a decision.
Whilst the POA do not agree with staff ‘selling’ their leave as we wish all staff to have adequate recuperation (especially after this crisis), you should note that this is a totally individual choice if you do so. Excess leave will be allowed to be carried over (full amount allowed yet to be decided).
Staff will receive sick leave excusals if they must self-isolate. A copy of the new reporting system is enclosed. If you are self-isolating you should do so for 14 days and then return to duty if you are able to do so. No member of staff absent from work due to sickness absence or self-isolation can be ordered back on duty.
If local POA Committees need to contact their area NEC representative, please refer to your structures document which includes a list of Prisons NEC reps are responsible for along with their contact details. There are also dedicated NEC reps for the vacant Midlands area (attached).
Governors have been asked to review all suspensions to see whether staff could be returned to work in any capacity, subject to local risk assessment by the Governor.
Governors have also been asked to consider whether investigations, disciplinary hearings and formal attendance review meetings should be postponed in light of COVID 19, particularly where there are operational, or staffing pressure or staff and union representatives are unable to attend. If decisions are taken to postpone, Governors must ensure that staff and trade union representatives are kept informed.
The recruitment processes and POELT training will continue in an attempt to maintain a level of recruitment pipeline to support the difficult staffing situations within the prisons. There are also plans for how to accelerate this process when the country returns to normal.
Mandatory and optional training such as basic and Advanced C&R has been placed on hold and out of date staff will receive dispensation.
We understand that HMPPS will shortly be taking the sensible step of suspending Prison Officer fitness testing in order to redeploy the operational staff currently deployed on fitness testing into prisons. As a consequence, the time period in which staff must pass a fitness test will be extended by at least 6 months to 18 months. Further guidance on this will be issued in due course.
Please make yourself familiar with the contents of this circular. We will continue to update you on a regular basis as the situation changes. During these times social media will be utilised to update you. Please access the POA Facebook and Twitter feeds (NationalChair POA@POAnatchair).
On behalf of the NEC we wish to pass on our thanks to you all at this difficult time for your professionalism and bravery. Your actions have not gone unnoticed by Senior Politicians. We will continue the business of the Union and will work jointly with the Government and HMPPS to ensure you are as safe as you can be and are supported as much as you can be throughout this difficult time.
With respect and solidarity to you all.
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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.