The Prison Officers Association (POA) has lost a High Court action against the Government over its claim that prison officers’ working conditions are set to be changed without negotiation.

The POA, which represents prison, correctional and secure psychiatric workers, alleged 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, argued that its proposals do not constitute a change in terms and conditions and it therefore was not required to negotiate with the union.

Giving judgment in London on Friday, Mr Justice Kerr dismissed the POA’s claim, stating: “The action must fail.”

He found that the union was “unable to show that (the MoJ) has committed any actionable conduct that breaches or would breach” the employment contracts of prisonofficers.

The POA brought the claim over 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”.

Mr Justice Kerr found that the POA had not “established any unlawful conduct” by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS), the MoJ agency which introduced the proposals.

He added that the notice to staff communicating the proposals was “simply a statement of what actions HMPPS intends to take and why”.

Steve Gillan, the National Chair of the POA said:

“Although our claim was dismissed the high court judge confirmed that the proposals from our employer over changes in the youth custody estate, the advanced prison officer roles and contract hours scheme does alter our terms and conditions.

“The POA now expect negotiations.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:

“We and are delighted that this case has been dismissed and will now continue to move forward with our reforms, so that we have safer prisons where offenders can turn their lives around.

“It was hugely disappointing that rather than embrace this positive move, which will benefit vulnerable young people along with our hard-working and ambitious staff, the POA was trying to obstruct its implementation.

“The new Youth Justice Specialist role is an excellent opportunity for officers to earn a government-funded qualification – at a higher pay grade on promotion.”

The MOJ added :

  • We are introducing a new Youth Justice Specialist role and providing funding for every Prison Officer in the Youth Custody Service to undertake a Level 4 qualification in youth justice and transition them to this new role, on promotion and at a higher pay-grade. Supervising Officers will also be funded to undertake this qualification and transition into the new role on level transfer.These changes show our ongoing commitment to reforming youth justice and will build on our successful recruitment drive across the prison estate, which has already seen over 3500 new officers on the landings.
  • All staff undertaking the qualification will also be funded and encouraged to continue their study to foundation degree level. Over 300 frontline staff are currently enrolled on this qualification.
  • We want to build on this success, ensuring that working in youth justice continues to be seen as the respected and rewarding profession that it is.
  • The new role is designed to deliver more specialised rehabilitative and therapeutic programmes to the most vulnerable and complex young people in custody.
  • We are also increasing frontline staffing numbers in YCS YOIs by 20%, with a further 30 staff profiled to provide study leave for those undertaking the qualification.
  • This is a five-year transition strategy and we are continuing to discuss with unions the consequences for those who do not want to take up the role within this period. There will be no compulsory redundancies.