Monday, 19 October 2015

Eastbourne Reflections 2

I suspect most readers will not be surprised to find I have more to say about Eastbourne. I note that early semi-official reports on Facebook are highlighting the renewed enthusiasm that appeared evident as members headed for home on Saturday lunchtime. I'm not going to pick an argument with that, especially as it's often those left right at the end that are the most keen and loyal. 

Pondering on the understandable calls for unity, it got me thinking about trust and in particular the heartfelt point made from the floor and directed I think at Sonia Crozier from someone working at HMP Isis. Walking across the prison yard they heard the loud refrain 'fuck probation!' In this new surreal world, post split, shafting and TR, what thought is being given to our safety?

Those of us, and particularly colleagues who've been around a long time, will be especially aware that historically our safety has been pretty much guaranteed because clients knew what we were about and trusted us. Even when being recalled, breached or doing something they didn't like or disagreed with, they generally accepted we were upfront with them and had a job to do, but at the end of the day would carry on supporting them, would be on their side in terms of any poor treatment, respected them and would be truthful in all our dealings. 

I've always believed this to be the case throughout my career. When once told by the partner of a long-term client that they had 'gone berserk with an axe', without hesitation I did a home visit, being careful not to inform management of course, but such was the confidence with which I did my job in the unwavering understanding that clients understood completely what I was about. Of course it could have all gone wrong, my judgement could have been misplaced, maybe we couldn't do it today, but just look at how shit the whole system is becoming around our ears. If we lose the trust of clients, our safety is surely at risk?

Continuing the theme of trust, Napo members must clearly have trust in those elected to national office, that they are effectively holding to account the General Secretary and 'my' officials as he likes to call them. I put it this way because conspicuously the membership had no great desire or interest in trying to seriously hold anyone to account during the AGM, barring the previously discussed issue raised by London Branch. Seemingly, the way proceedings are structured, it's pretty easy for any difficult questions to be effectively batted away by the top table, with no attempts at any follow-up. We must hope that the NEC might yet get better organised and exercise some direction of the General Secretary, rather than the other way round, but on past form, I doubt it. 

I thought it particularly instructive how the General Secretary dealt with the somewhat thorny issue of the failed Judicial Review. Listening to him at Eastbourne, one could be forgiven for forgetting that at Scarborough last year he had to be boxed into a corner and effectively forced into agreeing to take any legal action at all by a member-led revolt. The fact that by then it was too late and taken almost certainly on the wrong basis should serve to highlight the grave error in not having gone to law earlier, an accusation never effectively put or investigated, but along with so much, merely swept under the Napo carpet. 

No wonder the General Secretary never looked particularly rattled at Eastbourne and to be frank, is probably not that bothered if any AGM is quorate or not. The elephants have got to be tackled one day, or the herd will just trample everyone. I'll end this with the following contribution from yesterday:-

The squabbling & poor outcomes of the AGM are painful to read when numerous seasoned probation staff across all roles have paid the price of privatisation, either by walking or being cornered & squeezed out by the threats & immoral, unpalatable practices of the CRCs. Was there any recognition of such a loss at AGM? I'm one such ex-member of staff. No-one from Napo has contacted me since I left so presumably the CRC are still paying my subs for me? Whilst there are many global issues which merit attention, isn't the existence & welfare of a membership the primary focus of Napo? 

"to choose neutrality is to side with the oppressor" reflects a valid observation & sentiment... one I believe can be attributed to Napo when 'shafting' took place & contracts were being negotiated.

So, Mr Lawrence, please note that my lack of confidence in you as GS has never been influenced by your BME status, nor do I know of anyone who has cited such as a reason to be angry with your performance as GS. I, and others, think you & Unison got it badly wrong. But as the primary probation union leader involved in those negotiations YOU must carry the can for choosing neutrality at a critical point & thus you are complicit in selling members & other probation staff down the river without EVR.


  1. It's all so very depressing- on the point of personal safety, still waiting for the mobile phone, that will be necessary if I am to be able to comply with the home visit strategy! The form, to be completed on every occasion requires me to phone someone, when I have completed the visit! Oh, and for months there has been concern about the CRC's estate issues, remember all those statements about relocation before the end of this year! We've just been told, we'll continue to co-locate! It is such an omnishamles, I really cannot face work most days!

  2. I'm completely puzzled as to how the membership of the union have let the situation get to where it is today. They don't seem to be representing anyone's interests other than their own so, really, what is their point?

    1. Many, if not most, members have understandably been focused on their own work, their local issues & holding on to a job for fear of being "managed out". They elected union officials to deal with the union business and presumably didn't expect the union officials to roll over so readily in the face of threats & challenges to the profession's existence.

    2. After the AGM I decided that I will actually read the constitution and find out more about Napos policies and procedures. It is actually little use moaning about those we have elected. We need to use the processes available to us to raise issues. There are some that are good at this but most of us just moan when things don't happen the way we wanted them to without actually participating in a meaningful way. We can't just rely on others to do what we want on our behalf if we haven't made our feelings known.


    The next glorification missive informing us how wonderful Purple Futures are will soon be posted here. But as it's unlikely to to tell us how its boss company – Interserve – deals with criticisms, this link shows the vindictive and intimidating side of the organisation in response to its workers raising a matter of concern with a government department. Fourteen cleaning staff are now facing disciplinary action for bringing Interserve into disrepute – for merely highlighting the failure of Interserve to pay the living wage. In the world of Interserve it's a disciplinary offence to ask for better wages.

    1. Foreign Office cleaners disciplined after writing to Philip Hammond for pay increase

      A group of cleaners at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have been put under disciplinary investigation by their employers after raising the issue of their low pay in a letter to the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond.

      The 14 cleaning staff were sent letters by the FCO cleaning contractor Interserve asking them to attend an interview that could lead to suspension or punishment, after they signed a joint letter to Hammond suggesting a meeting to discuss the living wage. Three are now also facing redundancy and believe they have been targeted because of their campaigning on pay, although the FCO and its contractor Interserve insist that this is unrelated.

      The controversy arose after the cleaners signed a letter to Hammond congratulating him on his job in the new Conservative government and seeking to discuss their pay on 21 July. Six weeks later, the 14 were served with a letter by Interserve, saying they were under investigation for “bringing the contract into disrepute”. Their letter to Hammond was enclosed as evidence.

      Cleaners at the FCO are currently paid just over the minimum wage, at £7.05 an hour, which will rise to the government’s so-called “national living wage” of £7.20 an hour for over-25s from next April. The cleaners were asking to discuss the London weighting of the living wage as calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, based on the cost of living in the capital, which is £9.15 an hour.

      They are planning to protest outside the FCO on Monday with activists from Citizens UK, a community group.

      Katy Rojas, a cleaner from Ecuador, said she has no doubt in her mind that her redundancy is linked to her campaigning for a higher wage. She said Hammond may not know the cleaners were being disciplined and some were being made redundant but he was now the “only one that can stop this”.

      “I was one of the best cleaners there. I never had any trouble with my job. Some clients sent emails saying I was great. They made me redundant and kept people who were in the company two years and had grievances against them for bad behaviour and not me,” she told the Guardian.

      “All my workmates know they have made me redundant because they want to intimidate the cleaners and give them a lesson … One of my bosses laughed at me and said, ‘You’re never going to get the London living wage sending letters to the minister because you don’t work for the Foreign Office.’ I know that, but I work in the building of the Foreign Office.

      “It is not a crime to ask for better wages for me and my workmates. What they pay is not enough for any of the people who work hard. Cleaning is horrible and hard work. No one should be treated like a criminal and made redundant because I spoke out for me and my workmates.”

      The Rev Rosemia Brown, a community leader with Citizens UK, said the group is calling on Hammond to intervene to stop the disciplinary process and ensure that no one in the FCO feels intimidated for signing a letter. Citizens UK has written to Hammond asking him to look into the case and match other departments, including the Treasury, Department for Work and Pensions and Department of Energy and Climate Change, which already pay the London living wage.

    2. Paul Jennings, partner at law firm Bates, Wells and Braithwaite, who represents a group of the employees, said it was a “genuinely troubling case” and he was currently seeking an explanation from Interserve before considering issuing formal legal proceedings. “The letter to the minister was professional and courteous. It conveyed a very compelling and personal account of the pressures faced by people working as cleaners within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office,” he said.

      “Shortly after the letter was sent, a number of these individuals were made redundant, and we understand that the individuals who signed the letter have been subjected to an ongoing disciplinary process. It is extremely worrying that a group of vulnerable and low-paid workers may face possible sanctions for raising their voices about the impact of low pay.”

      Asked about the cleaners’ claims, a spokeswoman for Interserve said the redundancy process had no bearing on any other employee issues. “Interserve is committed to paying its employees a fair wage and our personnel will benefit from the new national living wage when it comes in effect next year,” she said.

      “Following the FCO’s decision to close Old Admiralty Building, we are reducing the number of cleaning staff on the account and have been in a process of consultation with employees and unions over the proposed changes. This is now drawing to a close and a number of people will be affected by redundancy. This process has been undertaken in full cooperation with unions and employee representatives and has no bearing on any other employee issues.”

      A spokesman for the FCO said: “We are in the process of vacating the Old Admiralty Building, which has reduced the number of cleaning staff required. We have not taken any disciplinary measures against any cleaning staff.

      “Our contractor, Interserve, has assured us that no one has been made redundant as a result of a letter asking for an increase in pay. From April 2016, all Interserve staff will benefit from the new mandatory national living wage.”

    3. This has just featured on Channel 4 News - presumably available to view later.

      Statement from Interserve no jobs now under threat -it would be good if probation workers & the three Unions could get the sort of publicity those cleaners are rightly getting.

      It seems as if an organisation called Citizens UK are involved.

    4. FYI I am responding from Interserve.
      As stated previously, we will only comment to correct errors. The assertion that people who ask for better wages are subjected to a disciplinary action is incorrect.
      No disciplinary action has been taken against these employees and none will be. The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded.
      Interserve is committed to paying its employees a fair wage and our personnel will benefit from the new National Living Wage when it comes into effect next year.
      It’s important to us that everyone has a voice. Currently we are seeking our people’s views on proposals for organisation design and welcome all comments and questions via the channels made available to all our CRC staff.

    5. I don't understand Interserve's statement denying any disciplinary action. To me, the format of Interserve's letter alone was a 'disciplinary' action. They sent 14 people a very scary threatening letter, attaching a copy of the employees' letter to Philip Hammond, just so the cleaners would know what bad deed they had done, while informing them that they were under investigation for bringing Interserve into disrepute, and then told them that that their action could lead to suspension or punishment. That is pretty strong stuff and sounded like a nasty threat of disciplinary action to me. Then- surprise surprise, what a coincidence that 3 cleaners did then lose their jobs..! Let's assume it was a coincidence then, was there any need to react so viciously towards 14 people who were politely making a valid point? I think Interserve have done a brilliant job in bringing themselves into disrepute, in that letter alone!

    6. Assuming that 15:28 is truly an Interserve body, "Hello!".

      Note that the careful wording of 15:28's post makes it clear that no disciplinary action has been or will be taken in THOSE cases. It does not say that anyone else breaking rank won't face action viz- "The matter you refer to was investigated, with each employee interviewed, and has now concluded." So, if nothing else, everyone was interviewed & exposed to the stresses 16:34 describes.

      Be smart. Be careful. Stay safe.

    7. So at 15.28 Anonymous writes: -

      " FYI I am responding from Interserve."

      What a shoddy organisation if Anon is an Interserve Employee - lacks the integrity to even identify her or himself.

      THAT - speaks volumes!

    8. As a matter of information, Interserve do not pay any sick pay. Employees only receive statutory sick pay. Low paid employees being taken advantage of.

    9. why were cleaners made redundant - Purple Futures aka Interserve have been at pains to tell probation staff (as recently as 2wks ago in my area) that there should be no redundancies and im guessing backroom staff will be offered other jobs albeit probably not on the same salaries. Why then, if Interserve can find jobs to avoid probation redundancy could they not redeploy a handful of cleaners?

  4. Thanks for your observations of AGM Jim
    They've dispelled any doubts I had about leaving Napo! They've fallen apart in my workplace and HQ are not interested in members and their day to day struggles at work I hope they fold quickly so we can start afresh!

    1. Be careful what you wish for as Napo are engaged in all sorts of negotiation processes and if these fail then all those working in probation whether members or not will suffer. There are fights and struggles going on all over and there are many good people in Napo who do the everyday stuff like representing people and advising very competently day in day out despite all the criticisms and negativity. It is particularly galling when people leave the union who owe their jobs to the professionalism and hard work of Napo reps. If Napo are falling apart in your workplace then it sounds as if there has been an outbreak of individualism followed by a severe case of I'm alright Jackism. Let's hope things don't come to starting afresh.

    2. You make it sound that individualism and I'm alright Jackism is not been in play so far and that NAPO members have not been party to such practices. Completely naive. You need a reality check.

    3. Well said 13:51 I was one of those hardworking reps who fought hard and long for colleagues but realised that those at HQ were just not interested in individual members and workplace struggles let alone bigger issues such as the unfair discriminatory pay scales! All they are interested in is recruitment and subs it became embarrassing to see every visiting official banging on about recruitment !

    4. Napo may be involved in all sorts of negotiations but they might as well stay at home ! From where I'm sitting they aren't doing too well we are losing hard won terms and conditions and rubber stamping these changes saying this is the best we can achieve or we will tell you more later! Napo lost any strength it had when it signed off TR
      I've seen these negotiations at close quarters and am not impressed!

  5. The calls at the AGM were for unity and re-engagement with the membership. It has not been explained what re-engagement means. If it's just about increasing recruitment and retaining existing members via check-off, then this does nothing to challenge the imposition of practices and delivery models that lack any regard for conditions of service.

    The TUC and POA speakers both emphasised the importance of unity, of unions working together. Cue the applause. I don't believe it's intended as empty rhetoric, but talking about what you are going to do is always the easy part. A starting point would be clear evidence of Napo and Unison working together. Napo spent over £250,000 on the judicial review and Unison contributed, I recall, less than 10% towards the costs. We recently had Unison taking strike action on pay, but no similar action by Napo.

    This is evidence of a divided house, not unity. So calls for unity are all well and good, but if members see with their own eyes disunity on the ground, trust in the unions is damaged and confidence in their pronouncements ebbs away. And it all becomes the empty rhetoric of union officials who become conference entertainers but in reality are disconnected and insulated from workplace upheavals.