The POA, which represents prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers, alleges that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) wants to introduce “substantial changes to the roles and conditions of prison officers”, but “without first negotiating about those proposed changes with the POA”.
The MoJ, however, argues that its proposals, which are “on hold” pending the outcome of the case, do not constitute a change in terms and conditions and therefore do not require it to negotiate with the union.
At a three-day hearing in London beginning on Monday, Mr Justice Kerr is being asked to determine whether the Government’s proposed changes constitute a breach of contract as a result of the alleged failure to negotiate.
The dispute centres around proposals to require all prison officers working in the youth custody service to complete a specialist qualification within five years or be transferred to an adult institution.
The Government is also proposing changes to the wider prison estate, which would introduce a new “advanced prison officer” role as well as allowing staff to apply to work additional pensionable hours.
The POA’s barrister Oliver Segal QC argued that the youth custody estate proposals would introduce “substantial changes to the roles and conditions of prison officers”, which would affect staff “beyond those currently employed” at youth institutions.
Mr Segal said the changes would prevent officers working in adult establishments from transferring to the youth estate, effectively introducing “a mobility restriction which does not presently exist”.
He submitted that it was “clear that the wholesale introduction of new roles to replace existing roles, each with a new job description setting out new responsibilities, amounts to proposed changes to terms and conditions of employment”.
But Daniel Stilitz QC, for the MoJ, said: “None of the changes that are proposed in this case require any prison officer to change any term or condition of their employment.”
He added that “various new posts are proposed, prison officers may if they wish apply for a new position, but no one is having their annual leave cut…or anything of the sort that might invoke the negotiation machinery”.
Mr Stilitz submitted that “none of the proposals requires individual prison officers to accept new terms and conditions”, but they “simply give opportunities to prison officers to apply for new jobs if they wish to do so”.
He also said there had been “extensive and detailed consultation with unions, including the POA, on the proposals”, and described the POA’s legal action as “an attempt to pursue an industrial relations grievance through litigation”.