As General Secretary of the POA I am updating you on the written evidence and oral submission that the Area Committee NI did on behalf of the POA membership for all unified grades in Northern Ireland. 

However, it is regrettable that leading politicians have treated the membership of Northern Ireland in a disrespectful manner by delaying any pay award that was due in April 2023 by such lengths. There is no excuse for this, and we will be making representations to politicians in respect of this delay.

It must be remembered by those politicians that the Northern Ireland POA membership does not have the right to take industrial action under the Criminal Justice Public Order Act 1994 section 127 (since amended) and that the Pay Review Body was an independent and compensatory mechanism for not having the right to strike.

It is totally unacceptable therefore that the POA membership have had their 2023 pay award delayed in this manner.

I wish to pay tribute to the Area Committee NI led by Ivor Dunne as Chair and Maurice Ferguson Vice Chair for the manner and professionalism that they have displayed in negotiations directly with Northern Ireland Prison Service in trying to reach agreement on pay prior to doing a submission to the review body. There is a good balance on the Area Committee with experience in different areas.

The Area Committee rejected the position put forward by NIPS as not being realistic in the cost-of-living crisis and produced a written submission that has been circulated to our members in Northern Ireland. This was a progressive document that covered every area of our membership irrespective of rank or place of work. The key demands were laid out and fully justified in the written submission.

The Area committee should be commended for this outstanding piece of work. This is a key example of where the Area Committee have autonomy on a day-to-day basis to look after the interests of the Northern Ireland membership. They know the key issues in Northern Ireland and whilst the NEC will always support the Area Committee this demonstrates that autonomy on a day-to-day basis for the structure that we have in Northern Ireland is vitally important under our rules and constitution. As General Secretary I want to strengthen that autonomy, so the membership of Northern Ireland has a greater say in what happens  and the Area committee continue to serve your interests with confidence. 

On Thursday 9th November 2023 the Area Committee attended the Pay Review Body Headquarters in London to give oral evidence. I attended as an observer only to ensure the Area Committee autonomy was kept in place with no interference from me and I have to say their evidence was first class. They left no stone unturned and justified every single answer to each question that the Pay Review Body put to them.

The issues that impressed me the most was the organisation and clearly the planning of who answered which questions on behalf of the Area Committee. This was a thoroughly professional and polished performance and I do not think the evidence that they collectively gave on behalf of the NI POA membership can be ignored by the review body, politicians, or employer.

I have noticed a steady increase in the NI POA membership and there is no doubt this is down to the collective manner that the Area Committee are representing the membership. As you know the POA are the only recognised trade union for Prison Officer Grades and PECCS. The density that we have in Northern Ireland in operational grades is more than 80 per cent. I am sure there would be many trade unions that would like that sort of density in their workplaces, but it is the POA who has that influence in Northern Ireland whether with the employer or indeed with the PSPRB.

The new Director General Beverley Wall has met the Area Committee on numerous occasions, and I met with her in August 2023 at an introductory meeting when visiting Northern Ireland shortly after she was appointed to replace the departing Ronnie Armour. I was impressed with her commitment to ensuring Industrial Relations are kept on a harmonious footing and pleasing to hear she has an open-door policy for the Area Committee to strengthen those relationships between employer and the recognised trade union being the POA. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Director General and her team so that issues that directly affect the POA NI membership are addressed.

On Friday 10th November 2023 I was invited to attend the Annual Memorial Service at Hydebank Wood by the Central Benevolent Fund. As you know the Annual Memorial Service is a crucial part of the year and an extremely important day for the POA and the Prison Service family. It is a time when we all come together to remember our colleagues who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We will always remember them. Members of the Area Committee were also present, and Ivor Dunne the NI POA Chair laid a wreath on behalf of the POA.

I am grateful to all the members in Northern Ireland and to your Area Committee for the dedication and professionalism you show to the POA and the Northern Ireland Prison Service. I sincerely hope that justice is done and all our members in Northern Ireland get a pay rise that your dedication deserves.

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.