In the past I have updated the POA membership about new restrictions on Trade Unions through legislation on The Trade Union Act 2016 which was first implemented on 1st March 2017. I wish once again to point out the main restrictions particularly when balloting for industrial action. The POA recognise that there are areas within our membership where we can take legitimate action on identifiable trades disputes. For the majority in our Union, we are prohibited to induce Prison Officer Grades to take any form of industrial action. We find ourselves under a permanent injunction and we have also been foundguilty of contempt of court when allegedly in breach of the permanent injunction. The POA continue to campaign and challenge legally against this grossly unfair piece of legislation that should have no place in a modern society and it is ironic that at National level in England and Wales Prison Service we actually have a good relationship with Phil Copple Director General Operations and fellow Directors, and we work in a partnership approach to problem solving. That doesn’t mean we always agree with the employer or that they agree with us but there clearly is a different approach and a more mature approach from both sides than had taken place in the past, but we still believe to put us on a proper industrial relation footing we should have free collective bargaining with the right to strike when all else fails.

Our Operational Support Grades do have the right to strike, as do our members in Scotland in the Scottish Prison Service after the Scottish Government restored the right to strike. The membership at Ashworth, Rampton, and Broadmoor who come under the NHS also have the right to strike as have Carstairs who come under NHS Scotland. There are also areas in the private sector where we have recognition that have the right to strike as well. The POA will move and indeed have authorised statutory ballots where our members, through consultative ballots have indicated they wish to do so.


From March 2017, industrial ballots must attract a 50% turnout in order for their results to be legally valid. For instance, if 100 workers are eligible to vote, and only 49 turnout for the vote, workers cannot take industrial action even if all 49 vote in favour.

Since March 2017, workers whose role mostly concerns the delivery of important public services must reach a 40% support threshold among all workers eligible to vote, as well as the 50% turnout threshold, in order to take action. This means that if 100 workers are eligible to vote, at least 50 have to vote, and at least 40 of them has to vote in favour. If 50 voted and 39 voted in support, it would still not be legal to take industrial action, even though the vast majority of voters elected for it. These statutory ballots must be conducted by postal votes and counted by an independent scrutineer much in the same way as there is when we do ballots for National Executive Committee elections.

Currently, unlike political parties’ trade unions are restricted to holding postal ballots and are not permitted to ballot their members in the workplace or online. This puts trade unions at a disadvantage in some workplaces. Lots of unions are working extremely hard at local and national level to ensure their databases are up to date for these postal ballots in order to comply with the law and the POA are no different as we would not want to fall at the first hurdle of the anti-union laws.


Unions must now give employers double the amount of notice of industrial action- two weeks instead of one- except for in cases where the employer agrees to stick to one week’s notice. This effectively provides time for the employers to prepare to resist the strike.


Trade Unions must now provide additional details of what workers are voting for on the ballot. Trade Unions will have to provide details of what each option entails, including what types of action are “short of strike action” how long the action will take and when, and a summary of the terms negotiated for.


Unions must now provide information to members about the results of every ballot including the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot, the number of votes cast in the ballot, the number of individuals answering “yes” to the question, or as the case may be, to each question, the number of individuals answering “No” to the each question, the number of spoiled or otherwise invalid voting papers returned; whether or not the number of votes cast in the ballot is at least 50% of the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot; and in “important public services” whether or not the number of individuals answering “yes” to the question is at least 40% of the number of individuals who were entitled to vote in the ballot.


Membership lists for those taking part in any statutory ballot must be accurate and kept up to date even during the ballot. For example, if there was a statutory ballot to commence for OSGs in each establishment the POA would need to ensure that each establishment was accurate for those being balloted. If they were not accurate, then the employer could apply to the courts that the membership lists were not accurate and did not tally with their records of OSGs in the workplace and injunctions granted by the courts. As stated, our notice of ballot must be shared with the employer in advance. 

The POA are aware of the hurdles that need to be overcome and that is why we have spent a vast amount of money updating our IT membership systems but there is still much work to be done for when we run statutory ballots to ensure when there is a legitimate trades dispute that we are ready to go with a confident approach. There are other complexities to deal with, but I thought it was essential that the basics were set out so that we are compliant going forward for those that have the right to strike. Further guidance will be forthcoming in the weeks and months ahead to ensure each branch committee and our membership department are fully compliant going forward and we are ready at any given time for any trades dispute in those areas of membership where they have the right to take action once the ballot procedure has been enacted.


I am sure the membership will have noticed that Dave Todd Vice Chair has been elected unopposed for the above position and will continue from May 2023 after Annual Conference for a further period of 5 years. I would like to congratulate Dave on his re-election for Vice Chair and I am sure he will continue representing the POA membership to a high standard as he has done in the past.


At the time of writing this Circular the above elections are being contested with ballot papers in circulation. Returns in previous National elections have been poor in the past with an average of between 8% and 12% returns. This can be put down to the postal vote system and not being allowed by legislation to vote online but POA members should not just ignore your ballot paper it is your union, and every single member should exercise their right to vote in these elections to choose the candidate that you want to represent you at National level in each category of election. It is your responsibility to ensure you vote and demonstrate that no matter what the restrictions are in legislation that POA members will overcome them.


Yours sincerely

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.