CIRC 048: National Chair Update May 2021

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

Payment Plus

In line with Conference Policy 48/18 and 79/17 which mandates the NEC to seek pensionable payment plus I can confirm that the NEC are progressing challenges to ensure both PP and OSG overtime becomes a pensionable payment.

48/18     That Conference instruct the NEC to negotiate with HMPPS to make Payment Plus pensionable for all grades owing to the fact that the current Alpha pension scheme is a career average scheme.

79/17     That Conference mandates the NEC to negotiate with NOMS, a pensionable pay, Payment Plus rate.

Pay Submissions

The POA have now completed both written and oral submissions to the Independent Pay Review Body. Once the Pay Review Body recommendations are published the membership will be updated. No date has been given for the publication of the recommendations.

Fitness Testing of staff

HMPPS have informed the POA that annual staff fitness testing will recommence on 26 July. We asked for the following concessions which have been considered by HMPPS:

Restart date to be put back until September to allow the peak leave period to pass and in order for staff to fully prepare themselves for fitness testing.

Staff are detailed time during their working week to prepare for the fitness test.

In the first instance only, volunteers undertake the fitness test.

Fitness test failures pre covid to be discounted and all staff start from fitness test 1 at the recommencement of tests.

The preparation time for failure of fitness tests to be increased from 6 to 12 weeks for the next 12 months to account for personal circumstances during the pandemic.

I can confirm that the following have been agreed by HMPPS:

We have spent time in consultation with our recognised trade unions and I have agreed to a number of measures which should support your officers to prepare and pass the test.

  • This will be classed as the first fitness test for all staff. It doesn’t matter if they were previously at their second test or on their last opportunity to pass.
  • They will have 12 weeks to retake the test if they fail rather than the maximum of 10 weeks. This extension is for a limited time only and will remain in place until the end of June 2022.

The early focus should be on encouraging those staff who are ready to take their test to do so first so that others have longer to prepare.

It remains POA policy to scrap the fitness test in favour of health screening.

Social Visits

Members should note the following from Covid Gold:

Recent changes in the community guidelines have seen an easing of some restrictions around physical contact with family members and some limited indoor mixing of households. Therefore, Ministers have agreed that we can introduce similar provisions for social visits in prisons.

Public Health England (PHE) and Public Health Wales (PHW) are supportive of the proposed changes for the reintroduction of physical contact with those under 11. While children of all ages are susceptible to and can transmit COVID-19, children in this younger age group are not required to undergo routine testing in the community and are exempt from some other controls.

Until now social visitors to prisons must come from single households where all adults and children live together or are part of the same childcare bubble. We are now allowing for adults and children to come from up to two households to attend one visit. This is the equivalent of the English community guidance on indoor mixing and, whilst there is no change to the rules on indoor mixing in homes the community in Wales at this time, the Welsh Government have confirmed that prisons can apply the same rules, as social visits are considered to be a regulated setting.

HMP Dartmoor

A decision on the future of HMP Dartmoor will be announced in the summer. HMPPS have confirmed the following:

HMP Dartmoor’s closure was announced in 2013 and it was our plan to close the prison in 2023, having given the required 10 years’ notice. However, HMPPS is currently engaging with the Duchy of Cornwall about possible options for Dartmoor, and we expect to be in a position to advise on Dartmoor’s future in the summer.

YCS Agreement

The NEC made a collective agreement with HMPPS in January 2019 which professionalised the Youth Custody Service, ensuring that all staff working with young offenders have a relevant qualification. The agreement stated that staff would have up until October 2022 to access a UNITAS course. Those staff who did not gain this qualification would be subject to compulsory transfer from September 2022 onwards.

It has been brought to our attention that HMPPS can no longer fund this qualification and the last opportunity to access the course was May 2021. This is not what was agreed.

The NEC made it clear to the employer that we expect them to adhere to this collective agreement.

I am pleased to announce that HMPPS have confirmed that the last opportunity for staff in the YCS estate to gain the UNITAS qualification will be in October 2022 as per agreement.

Cat A Vehicles

The Executive was made aware of an issue about excess noise when travelling on specific Cat A vehicles via a dispute from HMP Belmarsh. This issue, in our view, was an imminent danger to the health and safety of all staff travelling in these vehicles.

I am pleased to announce that HMPPS have agreed to carry out modifications to reduce the noise levels to a legal limit on vehicles subject to this fault.

Personal Injury Claims

There has only been two Covid Personal Injury Claims submitted from members. This is difficult to understand, considering that we have had over 13000 cases amongst staff. Whilst acknowledging that these will not be easy claims to win, where members believe they have contracted Covid in the course of their duties, it is their prerogative to submit a claim. Any member who wishes to submit a claim should approach their local committee for assistance or access the phone number or claim forms via the POA website.

POA Scotland

Mark Meikle from HMP Edinburgh has been elected to the current vacancy on the SNC and will take up post on 31st May 2021. John Cairney (previously elected to position of SNC Chair) will take up his post on 31st May 2021. Jim McCabe will revert to his role as Vice Chair on the same date.

Following a staff grievance, and then a legal challenge from Thompsons’s solicitors on the issue of leave for staff who were shielding, POA Scotland have secured an agreement with the SPS that will see staff have their leave returned to them.

Following a workplace ballot on the NHS pay offer to members in the State Hospital members have voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting a pay offer of 4%, with 86% of members voting to accept, from a 70% response rate.

Northern Ireland

Our members in Northern Ireland await a Government announcement on the lifting of restrictions. The Area Committee are due to engage with their pay review body.

They are also addressing concerns about the poor quality of issue uniform.

Shielders Leave

We have lodged Employment Tribunal claims for staff who were forced to use leave during their shielding period. We hope to reach a resolution with the employer prior to proceedings.

Inappropriate Terminology

The use of inappropriate terminology was recently raised with the Secretary of State for Justice Robert Buckland MP QC, who agreed that staff in Prisons should refrain from using phrases like ‘residents,’ ‘men’, ‘service users’ and ‘rooms.’ These terms create the wrong impression and detract from the disciplined service we are and are also insulting to victims of crime.

Senior leaders are now encouraging the use of appropriate terminology such as ‘prisoners’ and ‘cells.’

It has come to our attention that some Senior Management Teams in Prisons are threatening staff with disciplinary action if they do not use this inappropriate terminology that has somehow crept into our service.

POA members are encouraged to use the correct and appropriate terminology (Prisoner) when describing someone incarcerated by the state against their will. If any member feels threatened by their SMT they should submit a grievance for bullying.

Regime Progression

We have been made aware that some senior managers are encouraging the mixing of cohorts in activities at level 3. Please take note of the following note from Covid Gold:

There is no requirement for this to happen and the advice from Gold remains that limiting any mixing between different cohorts is considered good practice.

The recommendation that mixing should be limited rather than stopped reflects the change from level 4 to level 3. If mixing of cohorts cannot be avoided, then it must be managed as safely as possible.

Prisoners should preferably remain in the activity they are allocated to with no unnecessary movement between groups and activities.

Please note that members of a regime group must socially distance at all times. Establishments should pay particular attention to the arrangements around “pressure points” such as gates during the arrival and departure of prisoners to ensure that Covid measures are being applied.


Victims of Crime Survey

The Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has today launched her new survey of victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system.

The survey seeks to learn about victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system in the past three years. Any POA member who has been a victim of crime in the workplace is encouraged to access this survey. Follow the link to have your say:

The majority of Prisons are progressing to regime level 3 and are preparing for a level 2 regime. It is important that members engage with their local committees so that they are fully aware of all concerns surrounding regime progressions. We must continue to be vigilant and ensure we adhere to all Covid protocols. We cannot rule out a third wave in our secure settings.

The NEC remain available to address your concerns.

Stay safe and 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.