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Covid-19 prisons

UCU prison education member meeting report

8 January 2021

Over 250 members from across different providers and prison types joined an online meeting on 7 January 2021 called with less than 48 hours notice.

The agenda and links to resources and advice can be viewed here [547kb].

Marianne Quick, bargaining & negotiations official welcomed attendees and gave a brief outline of the current Gold Command briefing

Early indications were however that some governors are pushing boundaries of what is set out in that briefing including face to face teaching on wings.

Adam Lincoln, London regional official (FE) gave a brief report of the situation at YOI Feltham A and the insistence by the governor there that full education staff should be in attendance from Monday delivering a full time table.

Mark Fairhurst, chair of POA talked about his members' concerns about the safety in the YCS and their previous call for education to cease even before this current lockdown. The POA have called a meeting of all their YCS members on Monday to discuss their next steps.

He made clear his union's support for our members who feel that their workplaces are unsafe. The Gold Command briefing stated that education should continue where it is safe to do so. He advised members to stick together, take management on and don't go into dangerous prisons.

Marianne outlined the letters that had been written to the employers and the responses she has received. None of the providers have agreed to our reasonable demands or indeed meaningfully engaged with our members' very real concerns. We need to therefore consider next steps.

Marianne also outlined the legal letters that members can use if they believe that they are being asked to undertake duties that are unsafe. These letters are on the website (you will need your membership details to log in).

Adam Lincoln then talked about the responses that members have been making in London and how they have been using the legal letters to put pressure on the employers.

Brain Hamilton (UCU NEC and Novus chair) told members that the response from Novus, despite the Gold Command, was that our members should return to in-person teaching on wings and in workshops. There is no concern for staff health and safety and they are not acting on 'near misses'.

There will be a Novus members' meeting on Monday evening to decide how to respond. Branch officers will be seeking agreement for an indicative ballot as they believe that the only way that the employer will change is through pressure from the threat of industrial action.

Marianne emphasised that no amount of letter writing will make employers act in a reasonable way - we have tried that and they have taken no notice.

She also urged members to use the resources on the UCU website (including health & safety posters and a risk assessment checklist) and call virtual meetings with colleagues to discuss how to fight back locally.

Janet Farrar, UCU president-elect, spoke about how members need to prepare for action they may need to take to protect their health and safety. She stressed that national officers would be behind any action members decide to take. Janet ran through some of the ideas that had come out of the recent 'strike school' organising event including majority petitions [see attached] and one-to-one conversations with members.

Marianne finished by explaining about some of the press and parliamentary work we are doing to put pressure on employers but re-iterated that members need to take control on how they challenge their employers and force them to respond to our health and safety concerns.

Next steps:

These issues will not be fixed without your active participation:

  1. members each need to take responsibility for talking to colleagues and considering a majority petition [654kb] in your workplace
  2. where there are no site reps, step forward and email your branch officers
  3. if you feel unsafe, submit a template letter and seek advice from your branch or regional office
  4. register any safety concerns directly with your employer and on site.
  5. if as a branch or prison site you want to challenge the employer's approach, then call a meeting and collectivise a response. Branches should draft motions on 'failure to agrees' over employer's failure to meaningfully engage with UCU demands - this may also include a trigger for a consutlative ballot for strike action.
  6. national UCU will coordinate a press, political lobbying and campaigns strategy. We will also be working closely with POA and Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance to highlight the safety issues.

Remember, unions are the solution, not the bosses and certainly not the government. Get your co-workers to join here

Post meeting notes:

(1) So far two branches (NOVUS & PeoplePlus) have called emergency branch meetings for next Monday and Tuesday to discuss escalation.

(2) There were some comments in the chat around UCU legally challenging providers on status of critical workers.

Legally there is no mechanism for such a challenge.

In discussions that UCU has had with government departments more generally over critical worker status, it has become clear that being classed as a 'critical worker' does not require staff to attend workplaces but could enable a critical worker to access things like childcare. So, regardless of whether any education worker can be classified as critical workers we expect employers to adhere to public health advice and to ensure that all workers who can work from home do so.


Last updated: 3 December 2021