Following months of prevarication,and the disappointment of undelivered promises from Ministers, I have received news from HMPPS this afternoon to confirm that the Treasury has now authorised the commencement of formal negotiations with the unions on Probation pay reform.
Whilst it is too early to forecast the prospects for a successful outcome to the formal talks with the NPS (which we will seek to get started as soon as possible), the fact that we will soon be back around the negotiating table once again represents some positive news.
It’s been a desperately frustrating time for our members in the Probation service over the last few years. In addition to the impact of privatisation through the Transforming Rehabilitation programme, the failure to honour the terms of the 2008 probation pay settlement combined with the public sector pay freeze has resulted in no consolidated pay rises for those members at the maximum of their pay bands and inadequate incremental progression for others, many of whom are stranded well below the pay point that they expected to be at by now.
Tough agenda ahead
Your pay team will now be prioritising dates so that maximum attention can be given to the pay reform negotiations. Make no mistake, we have a potentially testing agenda ahead of us. If an acceptable offer is secured it is likely to have a significant impact down the line for the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies whose owners and staff will also be taking a keen interest in what happens on NPS Pay.
Napo policy is to see a return to National Collective Bargaining, and while we no longer have that machinery in place because of the ill-judged decision to scrap it, I am able to confirm that Napo will be demanding that all of our CRC members must find themselves on an equal footing with their colleagues in the NPS following any pay settlement that may be reached. This means we will need to know soon whether the pay envelope will be of sufficient scope to match these aspirations, and whether it has kept pace with inflation and is big enough to allow for meaningful discussions to take place between the employer and the Probation Unions.
Remember, that our members will ultimately decide on whether a pay offer is acceptable or not.
Meanwhile, there are some other serious and still unresolved issues that will need to be addressed as part of the negotiations. These include trying to rectify potential discrimination in the pay system and the appalling way in which the Market Forces Supplement payments have been operated.
I have made it clear to Ministers and senior HMPPS management that while Napo is prepared to find solutions to the above problems through negotiation, we will continue to plan for the possibility that legal action may be necessary in respect of equal pay claims.
Preparation is also underway to hold a Parliamentary event in September should that be necessary and consideration is being given to ways in which we can keep members informed of how the pay talks are progressing, whilst obviously maintaining our negotiating position.
Whilst we have a long road still ahead of us, the news that pay negotiations are to start again has come about as a result of the combined pressure that has been applied on politicians and senior HMPPS leaders by the Napo HQ Team and our wider membership.
We will need that unity going forward into these crucial negotiations more than ever before.
Ian Lawrence, Napo General Secretary