John Cairney, SNC Chair, looks to the future and diversity amongst representatives

The POAS, like most trade unions, have an issue with diversity amongst representatives and it’s something we need to change, as in the coming years this will become an issue. 

The National and Local Committees in Scotland have dedicated and highly professional representatives but, if you look at the age demographic of the representatives, it is clear that in the next five to seven years we are going to lose so much knowledge and experience we MUST begin to prepare to fill the voids this will leave.

The role of a trade union official is very important within the SPS and the partnership working model takes time to understand and put into practice to ensure our membership are treated correctly. We do our representation in line with the Partnership Accords set out in the Forward Together document, and we need individuals to begin to work with the reps who fall into the category mentioned above to ensure a smooth handover is achieved and we represent our membership the best we can.

Not to prepare ourselves for this known knowledge gap would be foolish on our part, hence this article. The common comment I get when speaking to members about putting themselves forward for committee positions is that they don’t think they would be good reps as they don’t have the skillset or knowledge to carry out the role. Those of us in our roles were in that exact same position when we began our trade union journey. However, we attended courses put on by TUC education, which includes employment law and health & safety legislation. We also learned from senior trade union officials within our branches. We also continue to learn in the role so there will always be improvements required – and by working together we become better reps.

Without younger reps and reps from different backgrounds, the POAS will struggle in the years that follow experienced reps retiring, and we must prepare for this happening. A good example of how, as a trade union, we can work better when we have different characteristics within our committees is the Trade Union Side (TUS) Woman’s sub-group, which is made up of the women within our committees. They are looking at specific issues affecting our female membership, and if we can get more diversity within our committees we can begin to extend this out to other “protected characteristics” to ensure all views are understood and taken on board when representing the memberships of the TUS. 

If you would like to get involved in local branch committees, I would encourage you to go and speak with your branch secretary or chairperson. You can also speak with your Scottish National Committee rep, who will be in regular attendance within branches.

Along with the elected roles within the POAS there are also POAS-appointed roles in H&S committees and Union Learning, which are also good starting points for those who wish to take up union roles in the future. Should you be interested in any of these roles, please speak with your branch secretary or chairperson.

We really need people to stand for union roles to safeguard our future and continue to represent the membership of this union going forward.

I will end on this – no one is a better rep than anyone else. With the correct training, support and passion, anyone can be a good rep, and this trade union needs you to protect the membership in the coming years



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.