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POA members in England and Wales who work in public-sector jails will rightly be outraged at the betrayal of the government in relation to pay. Many of our members are facing financial hardship, with increases to fuel bills, food, petrol and cuts to Universal Credit, where some members who are literally only just above the minimum wage struggle to put food on the table or heat their homes. That is how serious for some it has become.
Betrayal is a strong word but this is exactly what has occurred during this pandemic to our hidden heroes who have kept the service going. It need not have been like that either because unfortunately now the Prison Service are just recruiting operational staff to stand still. The costs of continued recruitment and training is costing the taxpayer millions. What a spectacularly short-sighted approach!
Surely it would be better to have a workforce that is well-paid and highly skilled and who want to remain in the Prison Service for a career than a continued revolving door of staff who are leaving for other jobs in the private sector that are paying more. How on earth are the Prison Service supposed to compete and where is the economic intelligence and competence in Government strategy?
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?
For every problem there must be a solution but also a desire to listen to the solutions. Ministers appear to come and go with no consistency. The POA are the main constant and continue to give our view to eight different Ministers since 2010 on what should be a sustainable pay model for the future. The pay model for the Prison Service is completely broken with no vision for the short, medium or long term, which is harmful to the security of the service.
The POA have continually called over the years for collective bargaining on pay rather than just giving evidence to the Pay Review Body. This is the solution, if only the government had the will to go down that model. There could be a win-win model with a better-paid workforce that was highly skilled, thus stopping the revolving door of expensive recruitment and training – and it effectively pays for itself in the long term.
A PRISON CRISIS THAT NO-ONE WANTS
The POA want a service that everyone can be proud of but it appears to me that, until the powers that be recognise that we are at crisis point with recruitment and retention, we are just going to go round and round in circles costing the taxpayer unnecessarily.
Private-sector industry would never operate to such a model. Could you imagine in any other industry where they were spending massive amounts of money just recruiting to stand still? It just wouldn’t happen, so why are the government allowing it to occur in the Prison Service in England and Wales? It is economic madness and being reckless with taxpayers money.
PAY REVIEW BODY TOTALLY FRUSTRATED WITH GOVERNMENT
Credit to the Pay Review Body – they are totally frustrated as you can see from the letters from Tim Flesher, Chair of the Pay Review Body in response to a letter from the Lord Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab MP.
The POA have got a review body as a supposed compensatory mechanism to resolve pay, yet this body feels they cannot do their job because of continued government interference. Hopefully the courts will give us permission to have a full Judicial Review on this issue when our application has an oral hearing on 15th December 2021.
It is a dreadful way to treat POA members who have worked so hard in making sure prisoners were kept safe during the pandemic but also ensuring the general public were kept safe. I am proud of the POA membership for the magnificent work they have carried out during 2021 and against all the odds they just keep delivering – and it is about time Government respected them as a professional workforce and rewarded them for that work with a pay rise that is well-deserved.
Make no mistake, if the POA had the right to strike then we would test that with our members but we have not got that basic fundamental human right for Prison Officer grades. Perhaps that is why the government treat us in the manner that they do? Again, a short-sighted approach because individuals will not always be so keen to be flexible if they are treated poorly at work and will vote with their feet and leave for pastures new in other occupations where they are and will be respected in the workplace.
WARM WORDS DO NOT PAY THE BILLS
All too often we hear warm words about “hidden heroes” and the “forgotten service” but these platitudes mean nothing and will not pay the bills nor take the pressure off our hardworking members and their families. Next April 2022 will see another rise in energy bills and also National Insurance ring fenced for long-term care. This again means less disposable income for POA members. 2022 needs to be a year where government arrest the mass exodus of prison staff and give staff a pay rise that is meaningful and above inflation otherwise this crisis in the Prison Service will just go from bad to worse.
As General Secretary, as this year ends I want to thank all POA members across the whole of Britain and Northern Ireland, irrespective of where you work, for your continued loyalty to this trade union. Unity is Strength and our members demonstrate that day in, day out. Thank you for everything you do and you deserve so much better than you are receiving from government at the moment.
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.