NATIONAL CHAIR UPDATE FEBRUARY 2021

Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of all POA members.   

Vaccinations

We have gained support from the Secretary of State for Justice, the Prisons Minister, and many opposition Politicians, to have prisons prioritised for phase 2 of the vaccination rollout. We await an official announcement from Government on priority vaccinations in phase 2.  

Face Protection Review

HMPPS have recently conducted a Face Protection Review undertaken jointly by HMPPS Prison Gold Command and HMPPS Health and Safety with input from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health England (PHE) and the HMPPS Health Liaison Team. The review considered whether the HMPPS face protection measures introduced in October 2020 for staff and prisoners remain sufficiently robust following concerns raised in January 2021 by the POA NEC.

The following is an extract from the report:

January 2021 saw concerns raised by Trade Unions which have queried the efficacy of HMPPS PPE, specifically face protection measures for staff in light of the increased transmissibility of new strain variants. Colleagues in the Prison Officers Association (POA) have asked HMPPS Gold Command to upgrade HMPPS staff face protection by specifically giving staff FFP3 masks when dealing with COVID positive prisoners and the ability to wear FFP3 more generally. In addition POA colleagues requested that FRSM must be mandated for all outbreak sites. The FFP3 mask is a higher-grade face mask which incorporates intrinsic ventilation systems.

The review concluded the following:

The current HMPPS position on staff and prisoners remains the most defensible position as of February 2021 based on the medical evidence provided. The review found that though there is clear rationale for re-considering the HMPPS face protection models at this stage, there is clear and consistent narrative that supports the retention of the current HMPPS position for staff and prisoners.

PHE do not support FFP3 for staff: PHE would need to formally endorse any HMPPS request to introduce FFP3 for staff or FRSMs for prisoners. Without clinical support from PHE, an HMPPS bid for upgrades would not be considered by DHSC who hold control of the stock. There is no clinical evidence to support an upgrade from FRSM to FFP3 in the opinion of both DHSC and PHE colleagues. FFP3 use is not recommended in situations other than scenarios where an aerosol generating procedure (AGP) is taking place. FFP3s is largely concentrated within health settings. FFP3 is not recommended for prisons or for general use. For an FFP3 to be effective, an individual must also satisfy a face-fit test. Without face fitting (which requires the individual to be clean shaven and may exclude certain face shapes) the FFP3 benefit is negated. Even after face fitting it offers no additional value except in AGPs. Crucially feedback from PHE is that in light of the most recent SAGE and WHO reports, an HMPPS bid to upgrade to FFP3 would not be supported by public health bodies.

On the basis of this evidence, the review recommended to HMPPS Prison Operational Management Committee (POMC) in February 2021 that the existing face protection measures for prisoners and staff are retained. This recommendation was formally accepted and the HMPPS Policy has been reratified with effect from February 2021. 

Covid HR guidance update

Government has announced an additional 1.7M people will be added to those required to shield. 900k of these are reported to be over 70.   800k will be from other groups. The announcement refers to ethnicity and deprivation as well as BMI as being additional criteria for consideration for shielding.  However, no further details have been released as to how the additional criteria will apply. In the meantime, there will be a number of additional letters sent to staff who will be required to shield.  Where this is the case, they will be offered to work from home or, where this is not possible because of the nature of their work, they will be placed on special leave with pay. 

Covid Absences

There is still a lot of misinterpretation in relation to Covid absences amongst staff and the way this is recorded and acted upon. This is mainly due to some Governors informing local committees that there is a new Covid absence management policy. This is totally inaccurate and unhelpful. A HR Supporting Attendance V6 document was issued last week but has now been rescinded pending further consultation with the trade unions because of the confusion it caused. The guidance will therefore be temporarily withdrawn, and we will revert to the previous guidance, Version 5.  This means that COVID related sickness and other COVID absences should continue to be recorded on the daily reporting sheets and does not need to be entered onto SOP after day 10 of an absence. 

Shielders leave

HMPPS have indicated that any member of staff who is shielding and has been denied their request to cancel, move or carry over annual leave within the last 3 months should immediately submit a grievance. We are progressing claims from members who had their annual leave forced upon them when shielding. 

Staff on 2 years pay protection

After the NEC raised concerns about delayed procedures in the NHS due to COVID which may affect POA members currently subject to regrades and 2 years pay protection I can confirm the following from HMPPS:

We are amenable to considering extensions of pay protection, on a case-by-case basis, where it can be reasonably demonstrated that exceptional circumstances apply. Such circumstances would include being able to evidence the cancellation or postponement of an operation or procedure that would otherwise have taken place in time to enable a return to original duties within the initial two-year period. Any agreed extensions will initially be limited to a further 12 months (from original end date). We can similarly consider cases for reinstating pay protection that has been removed during the pandemic, where the same exceptional circumstances can be demonstrated. 

Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Area Committee could not reach an agreement over a pay award. The Northern Ireland Prison Service have therefore imposed a 2% pay award for staff.

Lateral Flow Tests

84 prisons are already live with twice weekly LFD testing for staff and a further 28 are due to start by the end of the month. All PCES staff are to be involved in a home testing LFD pilot. This is expected to begin next week and is a significant step forward. As it stands, we are seeing approximately 39% uptake of PCR testing nationally. Some sites have PCR uptake over 70%, whilst others are below 20%. The Sheppey cluster of Prisons will pilot LFD home testing kits.

It is vital that as many staff as possible volunteer to take both the PCR and LFD tests so we may prevent the spread of Covid and keep each other safe. This is purely voluntary, but we encourage all staff to take these tests.

Promotion Assessments

POA members awaiting the start of the promotional assessments should note the following communication from HMPPS.

The start of the promotional assessment calendar will be delayed, in response to England and Wales being placed into lockdown. Government advice will be followed and until we are in a safe position to be able to run assessments face-to-face, we have had to take the unfortunate decision to push back the start dates.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely and once we are back in a feasible position to invite staff into a face-to-face environment, we will begin the process of standing the assessments back up. This will first entail us trialing the assessments and then moving to the assessment phase, so it will not be an immediate return to the assessment calendar once lockdown is lifted.

Initial estimates suggest that the start of the assessments would now be from May/ June, but rather than setting specific dates now we will communicate these closer to the time. We will ensure that we give candidates and their establishments as much notice as possible, and at a minimum 4 weeks’ notice. The scheduled order of assessments will remain as: HFAC, CMAC, DGAC and GAC.

To ensure that we can move as swiftly as possible to the assessment stage we will be opening applications for HFAC and CMAC prior to deciding on the specific assessment dates. An NTS will be sent out in the coming weeks which opens applications for these assessments, so please do not send any information to us yet.

The National Assessment Team aims to support development of potential candidates and we are exploring online awareness and development sessions. We will send these out more widely once they have been developed. In the meantime, please continue to complete your development workbooks in preparation for the assessments.

Any queries please contact NationalAssessmentTeam@justice.gov.uk

Contact tracing SERCO Agreement

POA members who are employed by SERCO should note the following:

In line with HMPPS Contact Tracing Strategy a member of staff, employed by Serco, who tests positive for covid-19 will identify themselves, or via the CTL, that they work for the prison service (included in tier 1) which enables the employment track and trace to be completed by Serco themselves much like an establishment. Any community contacts remain the responsibility of the NHS service. 

Any member of staff who is contacted by NHS track and trace and informed they have been in close contact with a positive case (at work or otherwise) are expected to self-isolate for the 10-day duration as required. There has been occasions whereby the Serco CTL has appealed this decision, in relation to close contacts at work, however the member of staff would not be allowed to return to work unless Serco received confirmation from Track and Trace that the isolation could cease.

Staff Shielding

HMPPS await Government guidance in relation to staff who continue to shield. The current position is. 

If Government shielding guidance is in place advising clinically extremely vulnerable people not to attend the workplace, employees should continue to follow this advice even if the employee has received both doses of the vaccine. CEV employees should not be asked to return to the workplace until government guidance advises that it is safe for them to return.

This, of course, is subject to change.

Pay Submissions

The POA submitted recommendations on time. HMPPS have declared that their submissions will be late.

The PSPRB will not be undertaking its usual in person visits to speak to staff this year, given the situation that they find themselves in.  Therefore, the PSPRB has decided that it will hold smaller “virtual” discussion groups with staff in order that Members can speak to staff to hear their experiences of the last year and provide the usual feedback on their pay, recruitment and retention etc. Therefore, they will be offering a number of grade specific 45-minute discussion groups, as below:

 

Date

Time(s)

Staff Group(s)

3 March

 

10.00 - 10.45

Bands 10 & 11

5 March

14.00 - 14.45

15.00 - 15.45

Band 3

Bands 4 & 5

9 March

11.00 - 11.45

12.00 - 12.45

Band 3

Bands 7 to 9

10 March

10.00 - 10.45

11.00 - 11.45

Band 2

Band 3

15 March

10.00 - 10.45

11.00 - 11.45

Band 3

Bands 4 & 5

17 March

14.00 - 14.45

15.00 - 15.45

Band 3

Bands 4 & 5

19 March

 

14.00 - 14.45

15.00 - 15.45

Band 2

Bands 7 to 9


Should you wish to attend one of the sessions please email PSPRB@beis.gov.uk

There will also be sessions with five or six local POA reps. These can be Branch Chairs or Secretaries or other local officials.

Use of Force Training

Many branches expressed concerns relating to excess numbers of staff going out of date on their C&R and MMPR refreshers and the associated risks this inherited. The NEC have reached an agreed position with HMPPS which caters for all staff. Those who wish to partake in the practical element of the training may do so in a Covid safe manner, whilst those staff who are anxious about partaking in the practical scenarios may attend the classroom-based refresher only.

MMPR and C&R should now resume on a ‘best effort’ basis and in a way that meets local need, this must be in consultation with local committees. This means that establishments should make their best efforts to deliver the refresher training and in line with the current SOP, however individuals who have concerns about participating in close contact work must be given the choice to opt out of the dojo-based session. Priority should be given to refreshing C&R advanced trained staff who are relied upon for TORNADO commitment.

Pensions

POA members should take note of POA Circular 15/2021 that explains the Governments response to the discrimination case we won. The main points are 

The significant majority of responses backed the introduction of a ‘deferred choice underpin’ (DCU) as the way to remedy the identified discrimination. This approach will enable eligible members, when they retire with a pension, to choose whether the legacy or reformed schemes would be better for them for the period between 1st April 2015 to 31st March 2022.

This consultation response also confirms that the legacy schemes will close on 31st March 2022. Whilst the courts found that the transitional protection arrangements in introducing the reforms were unlawfully discriminatory, the reforms themselves are not. From 1st April 2022 therefore, anyone who remains in service will do so as a member of their respective reformed scheme, meaning everyone is treated in the same way in this respect.

The consultation explained that the proposals set out would only apply to those who started their service on or before 31st March 2012 and remained in service on 1st April 2015. The unlawful discrimination identified by the courts was between those who were in service on 31st March 2012 and received full transitional protection and those who were in service then but did not receive full transitional protection because they were more than ten years from Normal Pension Age members. The government will now, therefore, equalise treatment between these groups to eliminate the discrimination identified. This applies equally to all those, whether they are currently active, deferred or pensioner members, or have died.

Members who first joined any public service pension scheme after 31st March 2012 were ineligible for transitional protection regardless of their age, and therefore were not subject to the discrimination identified by the Court.

Individuals who were in service on or before 31st March 2012 but subsequently left and re-joined will be in scope of these proposals, provided their break in service was less than five years and meets the criteria for continuous service set out in their scheme regulations.

Following the consultation, the Government has decided that individuals will receive a payment to cover the value of their contributions, but with an amount deducted to reflect the underpaid tax.

It is also important to clarify that the reformed schemes were not found to be discriminatory, as some respondents to the consultation believe. The judgments of the courts were that the transitional protection arrangements discriminated against some members; not the reforms or the reformed schemes themselves.

Whilst the reformed schemes are career average schemes, the ‘final salary link’ is also protected. This means that all the accrual in a final salary legacy scheme will be calculated in relation to a member’s final salary when they retire or otherwise leave the scheme, regardless of how many years’ service was spent in the reformed schemes, and not their salary at the point when they left the legacy scheme.

The Government acknowledges that many respondents have a desire to maintain their current arrangements until the point at which they retire, even if this is after 1st April 2022; but the Government does not believe it would be fair to allow some members, and not others, to continue under different arrangements and as members of different schemes, after the discrimination has been addressed and the remedy period ends. 

Secure Hospitals

Our colleagues in secure hospital settings are experiencing an improving timeline in relation to Covid. All sites have Lateral flow testing of staff in place and have had significant numbers of staff vaccinated. Although in some settings restrictions remain in place with bubble sizes of 3 and no activities on site, it is envisaged that many will move away from their ‘command’ structures as the situation continues to improve. 

Pre-Retirement Courses

There have been enquiries surrounding what is on offer for staff who are about to retire. I can confirm that HMPPS provide a 2-hour webinar which can be accessed via Civil Service Learning for all staff who are about to retire.

POA Scotland

The Scottish National Committee Chair election has commenced. Pay negotiations are due to begin but the Scottish Government have announced a 1% public sector pay cap. Scottish prisons continue to see sporadic Covid outbreaks, but the picture has improved significantly with the majority of staff returning to work after Covid related absences. There are plans to introduce Lateral Flow tests for staff.

As we start to move away from Covid restrictions it is imperative that local committees are fully engaged on all aspects of regime delivery. If local committees think a practice is unsafe then that practice should not be agreed. If there are any concerns Area NEC representatives will assist.

On behalf of the NEC thank you for all the hard work you continue to do on the frontline. Look after each other and stay safe.

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.