Monday, 29 July 2013

A Call to Arms!

No doubt it will take a few days for the results of the two union indicative ballots for industrial action to sink in. Colleagues in both Napo and Unison will each be having to consider whether they will indeed take action, that might include going on strike, should the need arise.

As is well known, Napo is not regarded as a militant union and has only ever gone in for a token days withdrawal of labour very infrequently. Even then it's usually been a half-hearted affair designed to cause as little disruption as possible. But many are beginning to sense that this is different. This is not essentially about pay and conditions, pensions or workloads, it's about principle and the very existence of the job, service and profession. This is quite unlike any situation we've ever faced before and as a result attitudes to taking industrial action are changing.

By way of illustration, I hope Joe Public will not mind me reproducing their very candid assessment of the situation as published on the Napo forum website:- 

A resounding 92%, in the indicative ballot, have voted to oppose the privatisation of probation. Maybe the turnout figure was not as high as that achieved by the Royal Mail in their ballot – 74% - but it's a rung on the ladder and a time to build support and keep adding to the awareness of how bad these TR plans are – not just in terms of the management of probation services, but the impact they will have on the livelihoods of the current workforce. 

They may still be some staff who are living on Mars and think this change in ownership from public to private is a management transition that is happening above their heads. The truth is some of these optimists will lose their heads in further rounds of redundancies. The private companies are going to make deep cuts in order to make profit. They will cut into the living standards of the workforce, by lowering wages, weakening benefits across the board – from support if you fall sick to poorer pensions and zero hours contracts. These contracts which do not guarantee a minimum number of working hours each week are spreading like wildfire through the private and even not-for-profit sector. Even a charity such as Turning Point has introduced them. There is nothing alarmist in saying that if these privatisation plans go ahead it will be doomsday for your wages, holiday allowances, sickness provision, pay increases - and job security. It can get worse – and it will if left to its own accord.

For the last ten years or so you may have been listening to chiefs and senior managers who, as they have implored you to work harder, have told you that high work performance will protect your jobs and secure your futures. They weren't lying, they were just wrong. They underestimated just how determined the politicians are to see the public services, including probation, largely privatised. Those same managers will now reformulate their words and tell you that the best thing now is to keep working hard and deal with the forthcoming changes as good professionals. They won't dwell on things – in fact they won't mention wages and job security – that affect your standard of living because if these changes go ahead your standard of living will go into free-fall. It is time to stop putting your trust in the management interpretation of events, because they are pretending all will be OK when in truth they know it won't be, but because of pressure from the Ministry of Justice they are too frightened to make a stand and speak out. They will only ever be your managers, never heroes of your cause. 

This is the time to make a stand if you want to stand a chance of preserving your standard of living and strengthening your say in changes that affect you. The results of the ballot are a good statement of intent. You cannot oppose, alone, as an individual, because you would be ignored, brushed aside, in fact your objections won't matter one jot. But when thousands of voices speak in unison, in solidarity, you have a powerful weapon. More of those outside the probation service will prick up their ears and become aware of your discontent. We will gain more support and attract alliances. The general public is increasingly cynical about private being somehow better than public provision. When they realise that these plans to privatise will increase the risk of harm to the public, they will put two and two together – but they won't do this if they see the bulk of probation staff passively going along with privatisation. Probation staff know these proposals are dangerous – don't we all have a duty to the public to be candid and truthful?

The government identifies industrial unrest in probation as high risk factor that may undermine the implementation of their agenda to privatise the probation service. What probation needs most at the present time is not stability – it needs unrest and agitation. 

For the past decade probation staff have worked hard to sustain performance even when resources have diminished. The workforce has taken hits to their terms and conditions and wages have stagnated. And the government's reward for your public service is to basically kick you in the teeth and disown you. The government does not expect you to fight back. If the workforce does fight back the government may be forced into a U-turn or maybe the changes will still be imposed. But if we don't fight our hardest at this critical moment in probation history we will never know whether a public probation service could have been saved.

Here is a comment made to this blog by Tim and I hope he will not mind me quoting it in full:-

I voted 'yes' in the indicative ballot, will vote 'yes' in a strike ballot, and will be on the picket line if it comes to a walk out. I can't afford to lose a day's pay - but then I certainly won't be able to afford living on G4S wages.

I am worried, though, that we're too small a group, and too invisible a service, for a strike to work. If the bin men go on strike, you see the rubbish in the streets. If the teachers take industrial action, parents have to stay home with their children. We all know that what we do is important, even life-saving in some cases - but our successes are largely private and failures very public. And we struggle to articulate what we actually do in a comprehensible way - which has allowed Chris Grayling to paint probation work as simply "supporting" people. No mention of challenging people's beliefs week after week after week - no, just meet 'em at the prison gates and get them a job and a flat and all will be well.

I do think we need to take industrial action, and that it needs to be sorted out quickly given that the third reading of the Bill will be on us very shortly. And I also hope that there is some co-ordination with other justice unions to amplify the message - although we need our very specific cause to be spelled out very clearly.

Unless (straw-clutching time) Mr Grayling gets another promotion in an autumn Cabinet reshuffle, and whoever comes in decides to review things. I can just imagine him trying to crowbar Payment by Results into the Foreign Office... "Now, President Obama, you've had a couple of years to sort Syria out, but it just hasn't happened, and those nice people over at Sodexho reckon they can do it on the cheap."

None of this is going to be pleasant and we are in uncharted waters. But I really do think the time has come for us to make a stand as a profession and in the clearest terms say that we will take industrial action if no plan 'B' is forthcoming. We have no choice really in what will be a noble cause and not one of just self interest, but rather one that seeks to try and protect the interests of the public and clients as well. 


  1. The average pay for a prison officer in the public sector is approx £23,000 a year. In the private sector it falls to approx £16,000 a year with almost half the amount of leave given in the public sector. Once everything belongs to the private sector who knows what more will be shaved off wage and conditions to increase profit margins.
    If anyone is still of the oppinion that "it will be alright on the night", you need to stop day dreaming. Everyone needs to stand up and do their bit. If you don't want to do it for the service, then you need to do it for your own pay an conditions.

  2. It's also worth noting that as from today you will have to pay fees to access employment tribunals. You will have to pay further fees if your case goes ahead.
    G4S or (group 4 shite), Serco and all the other massive companies, must be very happy today.
    No doubt they can now cuttail working conditions even further, safe in the knowledge that employee's won't be able to afford to take them to an employment tribunal on the wages they pay them! Life just keeps getting better eh?

    1. Absolutely shocking and cynical move by the government!

    2. Unite have made it clear they will pay this fee for its members

  3. I don't belong to the service, but my wife does and she's been a PO for 22years now. She no longer talks about her days at work, no longer looks happy on the way to work in the morning. To be honest, shes just looking and waiting for the best oppertunity to get out. It's sad because as some people get a calling to the church, she was called to the probation service.
    She would walk now but like many others there is financial entrapment, house not fully paid for and a kid still at university.
    She talks sometimes about NAPO and tells me they're shite, weak, and wonders way she even bothers to pay them their subscription anymore.
    I find it hard on the outside looking in, and not really being able to do anything.
    But I feel this.....
    NAPO, you're not doing enough, and you're leaving what you may be able to do far to late. The legal system hit the road running straight away and met with success. If you're not prepared to act more aggressively in this fight (and it's no use just saying "please stop bullying me"), the people who pay your wages will withdraw their membership.
    In the mean time, as we're sick of waiting for you to step up, we will register our own discontent. There is so much stress, depression and fear around at the moment that everyone in the service is taking a week off on the sick. It's not industrial action, but it may be seen as a measurement of our discontent of both government policy, and NAPO's lack of action. But the truth is (as my sick note states) I'm just sick. Done all the barking, now it's time to bite!
    What would NAPPO and Grayling think with no service for a week and not as a consequence of industrial action?
    I'm sorry for waffling, I guess I just feel like Judas when dropping the wife at the office in the mornings. Especially Mondays, when the whole weeks load of crap is still to get through.

    1. On a bad day I would agree with everything you say about Napo. I think the behaviour of the Napo leadership has let down the membership and I am still not sure if a corner has been turned. I also think there could have been stronger leadership and a higher profile in the media, though it does not help when the person who held the media job for decades during good times, walks away in bad times.

      On a better day I would say there are many answers to the question: who is Napo? Of course it's the paid leadership in London. It is also the unpaid - and sometimes unsupported nationally - local branch officials who in addition to their day job do their best to represent members in difficulties and seek to curb bad management.

      On good day the answer to the question is like the one in the film Spartacus – We are all Napo. You can be passive or activist, you can see the payment of subscriptions as the end or as the beginning of your commitment to your union. We have to put petty differences to one side – and they all become petty when extinction is on the cards – and make common cause across the membership. We must work to convince each other that if we don't stand together we will fall apart. Let's get angry but let's direct our fire at the enemy, not ourselves.

      As an aside, I gather if you gave Grayling an enema he would fit into a matchbox!

    2. netnipper,

      Well said! It's time to stick together and concentrate on the job in hand - saving our profession.



    3. scalagouse,

      Thanks for sharing that - your wife's story is very familiar to me and the Service still has lots of people for whom it's not just a job but a calling. The trouble is such colleagues get taken advantage of and that's always been wrong. Hopefully she can gain strength by knowing she's not alone and this time I think we will stand together and take action.

      Thanks for commenting, and my good wishes to her.



  4. Jim, Joe Public, Tim - You rock.

  5. I only read half the above comment before I was raging.

    Napo is as good as its members, as a former full member of Napo I let today's Probation folk down because like so many others, I did not do all I could in Napo, although I went to almost all Branch Meetings was a member of different Branch Executive Committees twice and for a time also an Edridge Rep. and also attended about half the national AGMs.

    But I was always beaten by the struggle to balance my life and get my work done.

    I failed and burnt out after 30 years at 53 just after I realised I was also dyspraxic and dyslexic and could get no dispensation not to type my own reports, which was literally beyond me. Those tasks were never in my job descriptions and were not expected of me before 2002, by which time I was also expected to be a computer operator - again something I hadn't been trained to do and also was never on my job description.

    I wanted to challenge it at an Employment Tribunal, but I also wanted to live and continue to provide my wife with a reasonable income. She had sacrificed a career to raise our children - maternity allowances and child care support were much less in the 70s and 80s. If I had lost, I would simply have been sacked.

    Also I was ill and in a mess as compensatory addiction had taken hold and I had already had a heart attack in 1994.

    On both occasions I had hospital admissions due to heart problems SVT 1981 - Heart attack 1994 against medical advice I completed SERs/PSRs in the early days in my hospital bed.

    Yet still I feel I let down today's Probation folk as I knew that probation was seriously diminished by the changes in the structure of the Probation Order when consent was no longer required and we began to become a correctional agency in about 1991. I well recall a huge argument I had with the then head of probation at the Home Office at The Napo Lake District Branch conference (RIP Brian Hampson - a colleague from my Liverpool days also trained in the Clare Morris way) the Home Office bloke just did not understand the reality of engagement with respect, that was what got Probation Officers started on a constructive professional relationship with folk they called clients when we did not keep shoving the offender word at them.

    That is not to say I and colleagues minimised the offences, after all it was the offending that got them to us.

    My very structured PSR Interview began with the offence (as learned from my adaption of the list of things the enquiry needed to consider as explained in David Mathieson's - {who also worked God's Holy City}) little book he co authored.

    I told the client on first meeting that my task was to attempt to explain to the court why he (occasionally she) had committed this offence in this way at this time with these (if there were any) co-defendants and within the adjudications available, to offer the court my considered opinion (NEVER a RECOMMENDATION- it is for the sentencer to decide - and not patronisingly told) of what might reduce the likelihood of further offending, and how I might go about it.

    A very challenging and worthwhile and exhausting job, I am still sorry I could only keep up for 30 years!

    Today I have read Tweets from at least one current colleague who wrote about giving up a day's leave last week to write PSRs - has a case load of 80 and frequently works till 10 or 11 at night - that is why we could not campaign more in days gone by and we got in this mess - we were to damned exhausted or we were sensible and preserved our sanity and health and kept the job in check although we could always stay and do more every time we went home - in my case I usually carried work around with me - a real problem if one ends up in hospital after an emergency admission as happened twice to me during my career!

    Rant over - Sorry for unburdening - again!

    Like steam trains the nation will value Probation when it has finally gone from our public services!

  6. With respect, what role does your wife undertake within her local branch of NAPO?

    Like all trade unions, NAPO can only operate within the law and can only mobilise its own resources. The legal profession is wealthy and chock full of lawyers :). NAPO cannot afford financially to call for judicial reviews etc. It is not a weak union, it is a small union full of people who are reluctant to appear militant. As a rep, I am expected to put MY head above the parapet and risk MY job whilst most of the membership are keeping their heads down and their mouths shut for fear of losing their job. We can't do it alone.

    NAPO is its members not is executive. On their own, the executive's power is limited.

    1. Maybe it's time for the executive to be a little less concerned about projecting a militant image, and more focused on what it's going to take to save the service.

  7. Well said Anonymous and thanks for being a Napo Rep - I know how dispiriting it is to stand up at a branch meeting with a report of some very hard and determined representative work and get no response from the folk who voted you into office - if there were enough nominees to have an election.

    However, I also respect those who don't get involved with Napo because of the demands of their work and domestic lives but I find it hard to respect those who do not belong to Napo and do not vote in the postal ballots for Officers and staff.

    It was very sad to see the low turnout for the election for General Secretary, particularly after we had been through such a strained time and lost three national employees all who had done excellent work before problems of relationships overtook and the ordinary members did not realise the extent to which things had gone wrong.

    I suspect it was a problem of governance rather than all due to individual failings and if Napo survives the Privatisation battle - which it may well not, members need to carefully review the election arrangements and periods and supervision of permanent staff by national officers or folk specifically employed to do the job, perhaps with advice from GFTU and/or TUC, but I hope the problems that only came to members attention at the end of 2012 are not allowed to be air brushed out of Napo's history.

    1. Napo, probably with a smaller membership, following redundancies, will survive if those members scattered to four winds continue to pay their subscriptions. It is not Napo's head office and its paid officials that is true jeopardy, it's - as is always the case, the poor bloodly infantry.

  8. There are some ideas for Industrial Action in this piece from the Napo Forum - what do you think ?

    I regret some of the acronyms are a mystery to me.

  9. I appear to have caused some upset with my earlier comments. That was not my intent. In response to some of the comments provoked by mine I would like to say a few things.
    Firstly, the comments posted were my own opinions, and nothing what so ever to do with my wifes. Because it was asked, my wife has always been a NAPO member, always paid her subscription fees, and without exception taken industrial action when the call has come.
    Secondly, my comments are based on my own observations and thinking. As I stated, I am not in the service and as a consequence am not privilaged to all the information available to those that are. However my opinions are expressed honestly and without intending to cause offence. I am aware that some people may not agree with them, and others may dislike them. Yet I feel I have the right to express them. It is opinion only, and again offence was not intended, but I stand by those opinions.
    I wonder how many people at the MoJ, or in Whitehall would be offended by the content of this blogg some days? Yet its only expressed opinion.
    With reference to comments above, I believe that union members need leadership, informed instruction and direction. I don't think members are getting value for money at the moment. Again that is simply my opinion and not intended to be offensive. I also believe that if union representatives don't very soon start sticking their heads above the parapet there very soon wont be a job to worry about losing.
    Just wish the Transforming Rehabilitation agenda could evoke such passionate response as my clumbsy written opinion has.
    These are my own personal opinions, and there is sincerly no intent to cause offence.

    Net nipper..... I thought your post earlier was very well put, and admire the calm considered tone of your comments.

  10. Here's another example of how the private sector operates: UK Coal. Last year the company's mining arm was called UK Coal Mining Ltd, it was fined £125,000 for 'systemic failings' that resulted in the death of a miner who died after pipes from a rail car rolled on him. In the 18 months before his death there had been four written reports from locomotive drivers about the instability of the pipes. Managers ignored these concerns. However, because of the 'restructuring' the company, now called UK Coal Productions Ltd. has escaped liability for the fine and the prosecution costs of the health and safety executive which will have to be borne by the taxpayer. UK coal has a poor safety record, there have been other deaths and fines for serious health and safety breaches.

    UK Coal lost a colliery, Daw Mill, to a fire, having been warned that there was a increased fire risk if they stuck to certain mining methods. Warnings from the union and HSE were unheeded and the colliery suffered an uncontrollable fire and became unworkable. But UK Coal will not be paying any decommissioning costs as the colliery has been passed back to the government – cost to taxpayer around 15 million.

    It has since transpired that UK Coal cannot meet its pension liabilities, so these will be transferred to the state's Pension's Regulator and in consequence miners who have paid into the scheme are likely to lose 10% of their anticipated pensions.

    In the meantime UK Coal carries on trading and making money.

    It has been said many times, but when it comes to the so-called free market it's the privatisation of profits and the socialisation of risks.

    1. You cant help but get angry, but also flabbergasted at the sheer gall of it all.

    2. Thanks for the UK Coal story - I suppose I should've realised there was more to it than as reported in the media recently - the way I heard it the company went bust because of the fire and now it's owned by the pension fund.

  11. I could find good cause to agree with everyone - we all come to this situation from different places and I do think we all want the same thing - so - lets do whatever we can to stop Mr Grayling and his extreme - yes, I said it, extreme - ideological nonsense.

  12. 111 reasons for not going down the privatisation route.

    NHS Direct are pulling out from all existing contracts. They say it's not financially viable. They started with a fee of £20 a call, but now only get between £7 and £9 a call.
    Concerns have also been raised over employees abillity to do the job, even though some of them have had up to two weeks training!! There are of course other concerns too.
    However, if Mr Graylings destruction of the probation service should go ahead, I wonder what his plan B would be if the major contractors decided to pull out of their contracts?
    I wonder if he's even thought about it.

    1. I hear the Minister says NHS Direct - the contractor - 'got their sums wrong' - this really is all a dreadful state of affairs.

    2. There's some good comments on video on the bbc news website suggesting the government should rethink it's whole tendering and outsourcing.

    3. Just heard on the radio that before the 111 service was rolled out nationwide the government commissioned research into four pilots, but before the data was collected and assessed they signed contracts with various providers. This confirms what has previously been noted about policy-led rather than evidence-led practice. And we know it's the same story with TR. We are not dealing with rational social policy anymore – it's bigotry and ideology that rules decision-making. Additionally, in respect of TR we are dealing with a fundamental lie: the failure of probation to reduce the high reoffending rates of those released from sentences of less than twelve months – a group that we know probation had no statutory responsibility for. 'A lie can travel halfway round the world while the truth is putting its shoes on'.

    4. netnipper,

      Without a doubt it's ideology - see this excellent piece on Guerilla Policy today - I'll be quoting from it in tomorrows post.

    5. This latest outsourcing shambles is like the work programme......another open goal. Can someone please take the shot?

  13. TheUrbaneGorilla29 July 2013 at 20:48

    What's that you say Skippy? NHS Direct get £7 - £9 a time for saying "Take two paracetamol and if it's not better in the morning see your GP"? I'll do it for £5 a call. Competitive tendering, contestability or what?

  14. I read something the other day that seems appropriate. Very briefly, it goes something like this:

    We have a government that nationalises failing private business (Banks), while privatising everything else – where is the logic?

    How is it that Banks are so important that they are nationalised, while true public services like, probation, NHS, Courts, Police, Defence suffer a slow death by piecemeal privatisation?

    We've seen the future, its Victorian England.

  15. The banks hold all the money, and money's what it's all about right now. Unless you can generate lots of spondoolas you're on the shit heap and they're very sneaky about it too.
    ATHOS are having other contractors brought in because their reports need to be improved. To make the service better? Not likely! It's aimed at reducing the amount of successful appeals against their decisions.
    I read something the other day regarding TR and corporate stratagy. It suggested when the management of an offender reaches a level where there is not enough profit left to squeeze out then it can be expected that risk levels will be manipulated and they'll be turned back over to the state. If manipulation of risk is not an option then breach becomes the favoured way forward. It's a really simple stratagy, the longer the offender is on supervision, the higher the profit margins are.
    The only place you can find any moral standing anymore is amongst the poor, down trodden, and us poor b******s who spend our lives slaving away and never getting anywhere.
    I'm beging to think that principles, ethics, and morals are a suppression tool invented by the rich.
    How they must laugh eh?