BACK US DON’T BLAME US
As we take stock of the recent pay award that is yet again delayed, it has not been missed by anyone that closed grades are rightly angered and bitter about the employer’s recommendation – supported by the Pay Review Body and agreed by the Government– that they will not receive any award now or in the future.
The very people who bring a wealth of invaluable experience to the landings, have kept this service afloat for the past decade and remain loyal have been ignored. Our closed-grade colleagues feel even more devalued, neglected, demotivated and demoralised than ever before. Their only option now to gain a pay award is to opt into Fair and Sustainable pay scales that will see them, in most cases, but not all, uplift their pay by a measly 4 per cent.
I have tried my best to alleviate concerns by putting out a factual circular, responding to emails and attending branch meetings. This is not the responsibility of the union – it’s up to our employer. But once again our employer has completely failed its staff and so it was important that, as speedily as possible, my colleagues were afforded the facts rather than listening to social media experts who, in reality, get it all wrong and know nothing.
We must remember that the membership democratically voted in favour of Fair and Sustainable to stave off wholesale market testing that would have led to the majority of us now working for privatesector companies. At the time, it was a race to the bottom in an attempt to compete with a private sector that paid abysmal wages to boost profit, while feeding off the taxpayer in the form of lucrative contracts and private finance initiatives that saw them pay off their mortgages within five years leading to 20 years of pure profit. We had no choice: it was either accept or compete for contracts.
For years, our colleagues in F&S were paid thousands less for doing the same job, but now they have finally overtaken closed grades, so the employer has achieved its aim of having a singletier workforce.
The reaction from HMPPS has been so poor that it relied on the POA to take the heat off it and accept all the criticisms and abuse that clearly belongs to it. At one point, our shared service centre was so incompetent that it actually gave all staff enquiring about the pay award my email address so I could answer questions from their employees.
The NEC has done all it can to redress this injustice but, unfortunately, the law is not on our side. What is happening to closed grades is not illegal. There are plenty of workforces that have staff on differential terms and conditions and pay scales. There is no case for discrimination. Neither do we have a legal claim against the government for failing to place us in the same bracket as other civil servants in relation to the cost-of-living payment of £1,500. It seems that, whichever way we turn, we are stifled by laws that do nothing to protect workers but do everything to back employers.
The only solace closed grades have throughout this sorry episode is that if they opt in to F&S pay scales, their existing terms and conditions, including pension arrangements, remain the same; it’s just the way their pay is calculated that changes. Ultimately, they take home more money.
Criticising and being abusive to the union is grossly unfair. Members need to turn their anger and frustrations towards the people who are doing this to them – the employer and the government. We do not have collective bargaining rights over pay and we do not negotiate pay – we give evidence. Ultimately, for a union that does not have the right to strike, we have persuaded the review body to award us a pay rise that is the highest we have ever been awarded in the past 31 years, and is more than those publicsector unions that have taken countless days of strike action.
BACK US, DON’T BLAME US!
This union continues to gain positive results for the membership. At long last, the fitness test as we know it will be scrapped. It has been a long-standing desire of conference that we should campaign to have the test abolished and we have finally persuaded the employer that this is the right thing to do.
The test will remain for new recruits wishing to join the service and for specialists such as PE staff, Tornado, NTRG and NDTSG, but for those subject to an annual test the dreaded ‘bleep’ is no more.
Indications are that a more holistic approach will be adopted with no pass or fail and no regrades or dismissals. What any replacement test will look like is up for discussion, but any alternative will be nothing to fear or worry about. We will, of course, keep the membership updated as soon as these discussions begin. For now, staff can stop worrying about their annual test.
A decision about the issue of PAVA in the under 18 YCS estate is now pending. The Lord Chancellor, Alex Chalk MP, is in possession of all the facts and now has a big decision to make. He needs to back his staff and give them the protections they need to keep order and protect themselves.
Violence in this estate continues to rise and of those we lock up two-thirds are convicted of violence against the person, including murder. So much for them being children. If they want to be treated like children then they need to start acting like children. Staff have a right to be safe at work and if that means they carry PAVA, then that is what needs to happen. It’s no ‘silver bullet’ but it will certainly prevent and quell violence and will undoubtedly aid control and order.
It always concerns me that the people who oppose us on this issue are not the ones being attacked when they open a cell door. Time to back staff and think about the victims instead of pandering to people who do not experience our world. I eagerly await a decision.
Recent headlines have highlighted the frustrations from the families of victims who continue to be treated with contempt from the vile protagonists of crime. Refusing to appear in the dock to hear victim impact statements and receive their sentence is the final insult.
EXPERIENCING A CRISIS
This has led to a campaign asking for legislation to be brought in to force their appearance for sentencing. I remember working in the crown courts when the public sector Prison Service ran them prior to privatisation. This was never, ever an issue. If a judge wanted the defendant in the dock, then that is what happened whether they liked it or not. Many a time I have ensured the attendance of the convicted in the dock with the aid of two of my colleagues. I fail to see why we need legislation to enforce this.
Maybe the Government needs to consider handing the courts back to the public sector. We are only too happy to ensure the attendance in the dock of those who need to be sentenced. Time for the voice of the victims to be heard instead of constantly being ignored in favour of the softly, softly approach towards those who commit crime.
As we approach the latter part of the year, I hope all members have managed to get some down time and take some well-earned leave. It is so important to have some peaceful time away from our stressful environments.
There is no doubt that we are experiencing a crisis that we have never witnessed before. Staffing shortages, lack of cell space, severe overcrowding and excessive hours working coupled with traumatic incidents all lead to an impact on frontline staff. Please ensure you keep talking to each other and, if you are struggling, make sure you access support services that are on offer from the union and your employer.
Until next time, look after each other and all the best. l