Prison officers' union demands 8.3% pay rise amid 'retention crisis'

POA calls for uplift to target real-terms pay erosion and high turnover of prison staff
A POA rally in 2019. Photo: Malcolm Park/Alamy Stock Photo

The prison officers’ union is calling for an 8.3% pay rise to combat a "retention crisis" and falling real-terms wages.

In its submission to the Prison Service Pay Review Body, the POA – which represents uniformed prison and secure forensic psychiatric staff – says all pay bands for public sector uniformed operational staff should get a consolidated uplift of 5.3% to account for inflation, plus an additional 3%.

The additional 3% is in light of the “historic erosion of real-terms pay between 2011 and 2023”, the union said.

There are two pay structures within the prison service: “fair & sustainable”, which was introduced in 2012, and the legacy “closed grade” structure. According to the POA, closed grade pay has fallen in real terms by 40.55% and F&S pay by 15% in the last 12 years.

“The compound effect of this erosion and its impact on our members’ pensions must be considered and the POA seek restoration of this erosion this year and over coming years,” the submission says.

As well as the pay adjustment, the submission says the unsociable hours allowance for staff on the F&S pay scale should rise from 20% to 30% of base pay.

And it calls for a £500 payment to staff for each additional unpaid duty they take on – such as so-called “Tornado” duties and training to deal with prison riots.

The submission underscores the “retention crisis” at HM Prison and Probation Service, noting that as of mid-January, 355 prison officers were on national detached duty – through which they are deployed at another prison to plug staffing shortages.

“HMPPS are keen to reiterate to the POA and PSPRB that pay is not an important factor in why people leave the service but, despite recent improvements in remuneration, staff continue to leave the service for industries that both match and surpass prison officer pay,” it says.

“If pay was not a contributory factor, why are there so many detached duty staff shoring up difficult-to-recruit sites in areas that have an abundance of well-paid vacancies that HMPPS cannot compete with?”

A survey of more than 6,500 HM Prison Service staff last summer found that around 40% of staff who deal directly with inmates wanted to leave their jobs within five years, with dissatisfaction over pay and safety concerns among the reasons.

The PSPRB makes recommendations on pay – similar to the Senior Salaries Review Body for senior civil servants – for all prison governors, operational managers, prison officers and operational support grades in both closed grades and F&S. 

In the foreword to the pay claim, the POA said it wanted to remind the PSRB that it is a “compensatory mechanism for prison officer grades not having the right to take industrial action or to withdraw from voluntary duties as industrial leverage on pay or conditions”.

“The POA believe that, if the PSPRB is independent, then it must be allowed to consider evidence and make its decisions completely free from any government interference through remit letters,” the submission says, stressing the union’s “absolute objection” to any “interference” from ministers in the process.

The union is also calling for a one-off compensation payment to cover losses to their pensions due to an F&S opt-in exercise not being opened until September 2023. Staff opting in were paid back pay to 1 April that year, but this was not pensionable.

The union estimates its overall pay claim would cost £166.4m.

CSW has approached the MoJ for a comment.

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