General Secretary: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Cautious approach should be taken to ensure pandemic is finally under control in society

In February 2021 the Prime Minister set a roadmap with dates pertaining to end lockdown as have the devolved administration in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, although there are slight differences in each country within the United Kingdom.

POA members have continued as key workers into 2021 delivering a service in their workplaces keeping the public and indeed those in our care as safe as possible. Our members, whether that is in the NHS at our secure psychiatric hospitals, prisons public and private and immigration services along with PECS do not get the credit they deserve or indeed the recognition from Government or indeed the media. This has been raised continuously with Government and also the media, but they seem to have a blind spot when it c omes to recognising the outstanding work of POA members who work in some of the most difficult settings of any keyworkers. I salute all keyworkers particularly those that I represent in the POA, but we also need to recognise all the other keyworkers in the NHS, shopworkers, postal workers, railway staff, cleaners, delivery drivers, teachers and the list goes on and on, it is impossible t o list them all, but we all deserve much credit over the last year in keeping many aspects of the country going.


POA members have certainly played their part and demonstrated a calmness about the manner in which the y have gone about the delivery in keeping those in our care safe. POA Branch Committee’s in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have been superb and without their knowledge and guidance the workplace would be worse off so I commend you and thank you for the magnificent work that you do in the workplace and for your trade union the POA.

Employers where we organise and are recognised are starting to understand that POA Officials are not a barrier to change and there now seems to be a better dialogue through negotiation and consultation in a professional manner that shapes what is happening in the workplace. Of course, there will always be rubbing points and areas of disagreement at local and national level but there has been a change from employers’ attitude particularly in HMPPS where at the very top engagement has been better than I can ever remember it. Nothing is ever perfect and the manner in which Band 3 F air and Sustainable staff in relation to the recommendation 3 of the Pay Review Body have been treated is shocking. But I do not blame the employer this solely rests with a Government decision to reject that recommendation of a pay award of £3000.

The POA would rather have reached an agreement with Government on this issue but as usual they didn’t want to negotiate even though we told them we would rather negotiate than litigate. Remember the POA have a Pay Review Body as a compensatory mechanism for not having the right to strike, as you know that was taken away in 1994 under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, Section 127.


The POA, the only recognised trade union in the Criminal Justice System that represents prison officers and related grades, is attempting to seek a remedy to this injustice by commencing Judicial Review proceedings. I cannot predict the outcome of this legal challenge, but we have no alternative but to seek legal redress and hopefully justice for our members. Let me make it clear the POA are the only union to take this legal challenge. No doubt others will hang on to our coat tails whilst we are funding this for our loyal members who stick with the POA. I am aware that another organisation has been set up offering a so-called cheaper alternative and certain individuals who appear to be ex POA members engage on social media with a small number of disa ffected individuals attempting to entice other POA members to join them. Be careful of cheap imitations and dodgy sales patter. The POA is an established trade union since 1939. Where others make promises that they may not be able or would find hard to deliver, the POA have trodden a path for many years overcoming many obstacles and delivering in every area for POA members.

The POA will continue to challenge where necessary with employers and Government to ensure you are treated fairly at work, but it is clear to me that the CEO Jo Farrar and Director General Phil Copple of HMPPS w ant constructive dialogue with the POA at all levels and that is something to be welcomed. Similarly, good industrial relations exist with Sodexo, G4S, SERCO and MITIE at the highest levels. I make no apology in stating the POA will always challenge poor decision’s, but we also know it is better to have constructive relations with respective employers so that our members benefit from agreements in the workplace. We have similar arrangements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and NHS where tremendous work has taken place by local branch officials and national officials during the pandemic and long may this sort of engagement take place.

Light at the end of the tunnel is an optimistic approach which must be harnessed with caution making sure all workplaces are safe and that the rollout of the vaccination is concluded quickly. There is disappointment that it would appear key workers such as POA members will not be put higher in the different phases and that our evidence along with evidence from other recognised unions was ignored by the Joint Vaccine Committee, but we will keep pushing this issue until everyone in the prison setting is vaccinated. The POA are a responsible trade union and we recognise people have a free mind when it comes to vaccinations. I would encourage all POA members to have the vaccine for their own protection and their families protection. I do not support compulsory vaccinations in the workplace as part of the contract of employment that appears to be surfacing in some workforces, but I would encourage take up. For example, we know that in our secure hospitals at Ashworth, Rampton, Broadmoor and Carstairs take up on the vaccine has been exceptionally high and only a tiny minority have chosen not to have it. I commend our local POA committees at those workplaces for campaigning and encouraging POA members to have the vaccine.


It is with regret that unfortunately two Honorary Life Members have passed away since the last issue of Gatelodge. I pay tribute to Don Wood and Geoff Burrows. Both POA men through and through. Decent men who served the POA brilliantly and both highly respected. The POA will continue to give both Sally Wood and Dawn Burrows all the necessary support that we can. I also recognise that during this terrible pandemic many prison staff have lost their lives to COVID-19 and I pay tribute to each and every one of them and they should never be forgotten. Where those families want assistance from the POA we will be there also for them.


Take time to read the article by Honorary Life Member Colin Moses. As many will know Colin was a former NEC official before becoming a long serving National Chairman. I fully support the article by Colin and as General Secretary I have made it abundantly clear in circulars, social media postings on our official site and previous Gatelodge articles, racist attitudes have no place in society, any workplace or indeed in the POA. I am determined to stamp it out and make our POA a place of security for everyone irrespective of race, colour, sexuality or religion. Looking at our policies on these issues and including bullying and sexual harassment they need to be updated in my view. But more than that it is all very well having the best written policies for the trade union, but actions speak louder than words and we need to strive to ensure we have more black and ethnic minority members on local committee’s and standing for national office. We need more women on our local committee’s after all twenty-five per cent of our members are women. LGBT members should never be afraid of having their voice heard in the POA and becoming representatives and ultimately standing for national office. I will also work with employers and other TUC affiliates to share best practise and make workplaces and trade union free from any form of discrimination.

The POA is a trade union for everyone. Have your say in the POA and join up today.


Steve Gillan
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.