POA secures landmark health and safety victory
The POA has secured a landmark agreement which commits prison managers to a legally binding procedure for addressing urgent health and safety concerns and ensures the union can advise its members of their health and safety rights without being accused of unlawfully inducing industrial action.
The union says the agreement is the result of a successful settlement of a claim arising out of health and safety concerns raised by POA members at HMP Lindholme in October 2018.
On 12th October 2018, members at HMP Lindholme arrived at work to hear that two of their colleagues had been seriously assaulted the night before. They had long-running concerns about the safety of the prison and did not feel safe running a full regime that day, so carried out a controlled regime.
The POA branch committee, supported by an NEC member, tried to engage with local prison management on behalf of members about their concerns, but were instead accused by management of unlawfully inducing industrial action. The Prison Service brought a claim against the POA for an injunction and damages.
The POA counterclaimed about the unsafe conditions officers were having to work in, with inadequate numbers of staff having to deal with high levels of drugs, weapons, and assaults. The POA argued that, in circumstances like those at HMP Lindholme on 12th October 2018, the POA must be entitled to advise members of their health and safety rights and to seek to represent their concerns to management in order to try to get them resolved.
The POA achieved its main objective in the litigation, which was to have a clear protocol which confirmed its right to advise members about their health and safety rights and to take their concerns to management to try and resolve them, without being accused of unlawfully inducing industrial action and without facing an automatic application for an interim injunction.
The prison service has agreed to a protocol to be followed when its members have urgent health and safety concerns. This ensures that, when members come to us with such concerns, POA representatives can advise members of their health and safety rights and duties and the prison service will not treat that as unlawfully inducing industrial action.
The protocol also includes, for the first time, a legally binding commitment by the prison service that local management will meet POA officials to discuss members’ urgent health and safety concerns and to try to resolve those concerns in good faith, so that we can ensure members’ voices are heard. The protocol will be used sensibly and in earnest by the POA.
This outcome is an important victory for the POA and reflects its progressive approach to industrial relations, vigorously protecting the health and safety of its members whose working conditions have been severely impacted by years of austerity.
POA national chair Mark Fairhurst said: “The actions our members took at HMP Lindholme to protect their health and safety and demand a safe workplace has been fully vindicated. POA members have unequivocally supported us in taking legal action to protect their health and safety and the results of a workplace ballot which returned in excess of 95% support demonstrate this.
“There is no doubt that our proactive approach defending our members’ safety with a reluctant employer is reaping benefits for POA members. I would like to place on record my thanks to our dedicated and hardworking legal team for their advice and support. POA members should be proud to be part of a union that continues to fight for their rights and should enjoy this major victory that protects their safety at work. This is a very proud day for the POA”.
POA general secretary Steve Gillan said: “I am surprised the prison service and Secretary of State wanted to waste the time of the courts. The POA through our legal team always wanted a legally binding agreement which was initially rejected by the prison service.
“This protocol now gives clarity and I welcome it but more importantly it was our members actions at Lindholme that guaranteed this success in this landmark protocol. The committee and branch members were paramount in this success for the whole POA.”
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