CIRC 008: NATIONAL CHAIR UPDATE JANUARY 2023
Meeting with Prisons Minister over Pay
On 12th January the General Secretary and I met with the Prisons Minister Damian Hinds MP to discuss the pay award for Prison Officers and related grades for 2023/24. We did not know what to expect from this meeting as this process had never previously taken place. At the meeting we delivered our expectations for POA members and reiterated that if any public sector body justified an inflation busting pay rise due to the uncompetitive nature of our pay compared to other public sector bodies, it had to be those that worked in our Public Sector Prisons. The Minister confirmed that he had no influence over the Treasury when it came to pay awards, did not have a budget to work to and could not offer the POA any assurances or deals over pay.
We left the meeting bemused as to why it had been arranged in the first instance and concluded that this was nothing more than a publicity stunt by the Government so they could publicise that they had engaged with all public sector unions over pay.
We will now progress to oral evidence with our Pay Review Body at a date yet to be confirmed.
Judicial Review Proceedings
Judicial Review proceedings commenced by six trade unions, relating to changes made by the Government to public sector pensions, will be heard in the High Court on 31st January 2023, with the trial due to last until Friday 3rd February. The Unions involved in this challenge are the POA, the FBU, GMB, PCS, the RCN and Unite.
The case concerns the Government’s botched reforms of the pension schemes for the Prison Officers, NHS, Teachers, Civil Servants, local Government, the Armed Forces, Police Officers, Firefighters, and others in 2015, which increased our pension contributions. It has already been ruled that we are overpaying into our pensions and the court case has come about as a result of the Government not taking action to rectify this.
Redeployment of PE Officers
It has been brought to the attention of the NEC that some Governors are routinely redeploying PE staff to discipline duties and, in some instances, altering shift patterns so PE staff can be utilised to facilitate elements of the regime. Committees and POA members are reminded of the agreement between HMPPS and the POA in the form of the Memorandum of Understanding 2013 (MOU 2013), which clearly states that PE Officers can only be utilised on discipline duties in exceptional circumstances. Those exceptional circumstances, as highlighted in Bulletin 8 include:
- an operational emergency
ii the need to ensure minimum staffing levels are maintained
iii unavoidable or unforeseen operational reasons such as delay in returning from external duty.
The MOU 2013 is clear and states:
The Job Descriptions for Non Rotational Band 4 Specialist roles (PE Officers and Dog Handlers) are not amended by this MOU and these staff will not be routinely used to work in Supervising Officer roles. Non rotational Band 4 Specialist officers can be used to cover Supervising Officer duties in exceptional circumstances, in accordance with the guidelines set out in Bulletin 8.
PE Officers are reminded that they should only be redeployed for unpredictable, exceptional reasons as highlighted above and should not be detailed discipline duties in advance. If any PE staff are being used routinely then Governors are clearly breaching their obligations under the MOU 2013 and Bulletin 8, staff are therefore encouraged to immediately raise a grievance. Local committees, if they are aware of this practice occurring in their establishments are encouraged to raise a dispute under PSO 8525.
HMP ALTCOURSE OPERATOR COMPETITION
HMPPS have confirmed the outcome of the competition to select the next operator for HMP Altcourse. Each bid was robustly evaluated by subject matter expert evaluators from across the Ministry of Justice and HM Prison and Probation Service, and after an extensive competition process that attracted bids from five framework operators, Sodexo was the winning bidder. Sodexo delivered a strong bid that aligned with the Government’s priorities as set out in the Prisons Strategy White Paper, including on tackling drug misuse, increased employment on release and reducing reoffending, and it is HMPPS intention to enter into a contract with Sodexo to operate the prison for the next ten years.
HMP Five Wells agreed Pay Award
The POA, as the recognised union at HMP Five Wells have agreed the following:
An immediate £2,000 pay consolidated increase as of 1st January 2023. This date has been brought forward from April 2023 when the Pay Review was originally planned, this is so members benefit immediately from this adjustment to their pay. The POA and G4S have jointly agreed to the increase and the POA have agreed to set aside the voluntary agreement in order for the pay rise to be implemented along with the retention bonus as it is in the best interests of its members not to delay. G4S and POA agrees to negotiate on other areas on a “without prejudice” basis with a view to reaching agreement by April 2023 in the following areas;
- Sickness Absence
- Annual leave
- Cost of Living payment for Gas and Electricity
An additional retention bonus will also be paid to existing staff.
Rigid Bar Handcuffs (RBH) in Female and Open Estate
After a prolonged campaign by the NEC we now have confirmation from HMPPS of the following:
After consultation with the Director of Womens Services and her SLT, RBH must be available to all operational band 3-5’s working in women’s and open estates. The Framework will be published in 2023 but preparations for these changes to operational procedures has started in two early adopter sites. HMP Eastwood Park and Low Newton will be early adopter sites. Local instructors will deliver the training starting in early January 2023. ORRU will conduct assurance visits to review their progress with training delivery and support the local SMT with evaluation of impact.
First Aid Training
It has been brought to the attention of the NEC that many Governors are now targeting Custodial Managers to undertake first aid training so they may meet their legal obligation in providing enough first aid trained staff on duty. All POA members are reminded that they cannot be forced to volunteer for first aid training once their qualification has expired after they have completed this mandatory element on initial Officer training.
Custodial managers are reminded that they are under no obligation whatsoever to partake in any first aid training and must be volunteers if they do so. Any CMs that feel they are being coerced, forced, unduly persuaded or bullied into becoming first aid trained should immediately seek the support of their local POA committee. Members are also reminded that staff appraisals should not include a performance target of achieving a first aid qualification unless otherwise agreed with the individual member of staff.
All Health unions including the POA have agreed that they will refuse to submit evidence to their respective pay review bodies due to the Government’s reluctance to realistically consult with them over future pay awards.
NEW MEMBERSHIP BENEFIT – PERKJAM
POA members and their partners can now benefit from free exclusive access to over a thousand perks, discounts, and freebies from big-name brands and local businesses. This benefit is also available for our retired members and their partners. We believe the free perks platform is a great addition to the services we provide and we are delighted to launch our new perks platform in partnership with Perkjam. To view all offers and start saving visit the members section of the POA website and follow the link to sign up.
Opting in to Fair and Sustainable
Many POA members who are OSGs, Band 4 and Band 5 closed grades will now benefit financially by opting into F&S pay scales. Opt in letters have now been forwarded to work e mail addresses. Members are reminded that opting in does not alter your pension or existing terms and conditions and only alters the way pay is calculated. Staff in these closed grades (Bands 2-4-5) will see an increase in salary if they opt in, including back pay to April 1st 2022.
If any members have not received an opt in letter they should check with their line manager. Local POA committees are encouraged to contact all POA members who are absent from their home establishment for whatever reason to ensure they have received an opt in letter if they are eligible to opt in.
Only staff who will benefit financially by opting in will receive an invite to do so.
I have been made aware that some Governors and PGDs are insisting that regimes return to pre covid levels of unlock and activities. The NEC disagree with full wing unlocks as the evidence confirms that mass unlock of prisoners with insufficient staff to supervise breeds violence and disorder. Regimes must be based on risk and not the wishes of out of touch managers. If an activity or unlock numbers are unsafe then as individuals you have a right to impose the legally binding Health and Safety Protocol. We must take this opportunity to make our prisons safe and increase staff to prisoner supervising ratios. The only way we can do this is by ensuring we work safely and only unlock manageable numbers of prisoners based upon staffing levels available. We do not work to ratios of 30:1, we base our unlock numbers on risk. Please work as safely as you can.
All the best.