There is a real fear among prison officers leaders that their membership are set to reject the pay and conditions offer made to them this week by the Ministry of Justice, sources have told Converse.
The wide-ranging offer, accepted by the Prison Officers’ Association, gives prison officers a reduction in pension age to 65, the only public body to secure such a deal. The ability to retire at 65, at nil cost to the prison officer concerned, amounts to an investment of £12 million a year.
The offer also includes a new industrial relations procedural agreement, which means independent binding arbitration, and which should see a reduction, if not an end, to walk-out protests that we have seen recently.
In addition prison officers will be paid a £1000 ‘retention bonus’ in March 2017 and March 2018.
However one source close to the POA leadership, told Converse: “There is a very real fear that members will reject the offer because the pay rise is rubbish, due to the Government pay cap, this has been an ongoing negotiation for 18 months and is nothing to do with the recent protest action.”
The fear that prison officers will reject the offer made by Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, is certain to shake the Ministry of Justice, who are desperate to see stability return to a prison system that is said by a variety of experts to be ‘in meltdown’.
Mark Leech, editor of Converse said: “I hope prison officers do accept the agreement, its a genuine attempt by the Secretary of State to listen and respond to their very real concerns – but the elephant in the room is prison officer pay and this offer doesn’t, and in fact couldn’t, address that at all.
“Government-wide policy on capping public sector pay means that solving the prison officers’ long-standing complaint about low pay is not something in the gift of Liz Truss.”
And that is the nub of the problem, and one that is causing prison officer’s leaders to fear rejection of what is now on the table – and which they accepted and recommended to their members.
Mr Leech said: “The reality is that prison officers do have a legitimate complaint about their pay, I wouldn’t do their job for £100,000 a year, so twenty-odd grand doesn’t even come close to what they deserve for what they do.
“But lifting the Government pay cap on public sector pay for prison officers, which is what would need to happen to improve their pay rates, would lead to a flood of protests from other public sector bodies, rightly perhaps demanding the same relaxation of the rules – and I can’t see the Government allowing that.
“The problem for prison officers is that they know if they accept this offer then any discussions about pay are then put on the back burner for a couple of years – their dilemma therefore is do they stand and fight their ‘pay corner’ now, and risk what is currently on offer, or do they accept that in reality the current offer is about the best offer they are going to get?”
“Only time will tell.”
The result of the prison officers ballot is due in the next week.