Members of the probation and family courts workers union, Napo, gathered in Newcastle for our AGM. This was a ‘hybrid’ conference, attended by around 170 members in person with around 50 attending via Zoom.
Top of the agenda were two emergency motions on pay that commit Napo to ballot for industrial action should negotiations break down. This follows an indicative ballot in which 99% voted to reject the current pay freeze. Members of UNISON and GMB also voted 98% and 86% to reject the pay freeze and are expected to embark on similar campaigns.
Angry response to Tory Minister
Addressing the conference on Zoom, Tory Minister for Crime and Policing Kit Malthouse threw fuel on the fire telling us there is no money for pay but £183 million to spend on a massive expansion of electronic tagging, all of which will go to multinational companies like SERCO and G4S. He was met with predictable outrage from the floor, gloriously supplemented by unrepeatable insults posted in the Zoom Chat – all of which he was able to read!
It seems clear all three unions are now on a collision course with the Government as part of the wider push back against the public sector pay freeze. While pay is the main focus, a struggle on the issue may also be a proxy for widespread discontent over workloads, staffing levels and burnout resulting from the pandemic.
Disastrous results of part-privatisation
All areas of Probation are struggling to deliver a basic service let alone the full range of requirements demanded by the courts. There is a huge disconnect between the messages coming from Senior Management about ‘recovery’ and ‘transformation’ following reunification after 7 years of disastrous part-privatisation.
Senior Management admit they are struggling to deliver services and they are placing a strong emphasis on getting the ‘basics’ right while they desperately try to recruit more staff. A combination of low pay and punishing workloads does not make working in probation an attractive proposition, however, and they are massively underestimating the discontent amongst existing staff.
A consistent feature of this year’s AGM was a strong mood to fight back against institutional oppression. Trevor Hercules, author of two books based on his experiences in the criminal justice system, criticised organisations such as the Black Police Federation for their failure to address racist policing policies like ‘stop and search’. Motions calling for an enquiry and campaign to investigate and expose sexism and misogyny in the Probation Service and opposition to the proposed expansion of women’s prisons received overwhelming support.
Disappointingly, no motions on climate change were discussed and the crisis did not feature in any of the professional sessions or fringe meetings. This is an oversight given the urgency of the crisis, and one that must be rectified at forthcoming NECs and next year’s AGM if Napo is to capture the imagination of the fresh layers of activists now entering struggle.
Napo, with other unions across probation and the wider public sector must work together to co-ordinate ballots for industrial to build the necessary momentum to beat the anti-democratic and anti-union laws introduced by the Tories. Ballots around pay can become focal points and a lightening rod for the accumlated anger faced by workers in the courts and probation.
Socialist Alternative sold15 copies of our newspapers and 6 pamphlets to conference delegates. We also attended a breakout event organised by UNITE in Newcastle City Centre opposing Fire and Rehire.