Ian Lawrence Writes: Where next for Napo?

Cafcass, PBNI, NPS and 21 CRC’s equals 24 employers. It also equates to a huge amount of work for your elected Officers and employed staff as we try to promote and protect the interests of our members wherever they work.

Despite the massive strain this has placed on our financial resources, Napo is still here and your leadership is determined to help us rebuild and move forward. In the face of adversity it’s a strong and positive message, rather than one of despair, that we are offering to our members at the workplace meetings which are now underway as part of our engagement strategy.

A new bargaining landscape

When the Transforming Rehabilitation contracts were signed over to the owners of the 21 Community Rehabilitation Companies in December 2014, it heralded the start of a series of varied challenges to the union (and a real threat to its very existence) that Napo’s existing bargaining structures were simply not designed for.

The industrial landscape that we have moved into since the demise of the former Probation Trusts, has seen us move from a negotiating structure which was essentially composed of 3 employing bodies: namely the 35 Trusts under the collective agreements of the National Negotiating Council (NNC), Cafcass and PBNI to those that are in front of us now.

Add to this the cynical attempt to financially destabilise us and our sister unions operating within NOMS by the removal of ‘Check Off’ (union subs direct from pay), and it adds up to an unparalleled trauma of a magnitude that Napo has ever had to face in our long and proud history. Under the circumstances it would have been easy for us to run for cover and seek a desperate merger with another union, with all of the attendant uncertainties that this would have brought to our loyal members.

Instead, and building on the endorsement that we received at last year’s AGM to maintain our status as an independent trade union and professional association, and the directive to implement our recovery plan, we have taken a long hard look  at ourselves and started to make the changes to our internal structures to help us face these new demands. That we have done so by reducing our staffing costs and by better utilising the varied skills of the Chivalry Road team, whilst at the same time having to design the Direct Debit (DD) campaign from scratch and introduce cheaper subscriptions for our members signing over to DD, is testimony to your employees commitment to the cause.

Externally, Napo has before it a massive agenda. This ranges from the obvious need to secure something tangible in terms of an annual pay increase against this Government’s inherent disdain for public servants and their refusal to authorise real negotiations, through to the imperative to arrive at a modern pay model which is fit for purpose and includes shorter pay bands and a realistic timescale for individuals to reach their pay maximum. Additionally there are a number of critical vocational issues affecting members within their particular employer, for example:

  • The emerging CRC operating models, and the subsequent job cuts, on which Napo Officials are working extremely hard, alongside our local reps, to engage with some often unscrupulous employers
  • The Board Management Review in Probation Northern Ireland which poses serious threats to the operational capacity of the service to help build on the relative peace and community cohesion that has been achieved since the formal end of ‘the troubles’.
  • Budget reductions in CAFCASS, against a substantial increase in care applications which brings even more pressure for practitioners and those families seeking resolution in an already overloaded Family Law system
  • The soon to commence negotiations on The E3 operational model in the NPS, which has significant implications for staff in terms of job evaluation, future roles and delivery structures

So, what’s different to before?

A question that is best answered by reminding ourselves that the privatisation under TR has further complicated (and indeed threatens) our traditional approach to collective bargaining. For there is pressure on the existing NNC machinery itself to properly fulfil the role that it was set up for, with NOMS showing impatience at the lack of tangible outcomes and the private probation contractors sending strong signals that they want to sit down with Napo to explore what they can do in the future on key issues such as pay and reward for their employees within the CRC’s that they own. Napo and our sister unions have offered some ‘without prejudice’ proposals for potential reform and will soon be engaging in discussions with both sets of employers about the future status and role of the NNC.

All this is on top of the highly vexatious issue of the harmonisation of legacy probation terms and conditions for

NPS staff against the existing Civil Service policies in areas such as family and mobility policies, which due to a number of complications not of Napo’s making are simply taking too long to resolve.

The road to recovery

Without a doubt, all of this presents a major test for Napo’s capacity and ability to represent members and to continue our Parliamentary and Campaign work where we try to successfully exploit those opportunities that come our way such as exposing the systemic failures of the TR programme, such as the real risk to the safety of staff and communities because of the hubris of politicians in the last Government, and the mis-sold CRC contracts which have led to hundreds of job losses. At the same time and like it or not, we need to strike a balance between the need to be on the front foot whilst trying to establish a workable and direct dialogue with Ministers.

There is no easy fix for what we are facing, and those days have gone (if ever they really existed) where the mere threat of industrial action would itself be sufficient to halt the employer in their tracks.

What will carry Napo and its members through is collectivism; and a belief that no matter how tough it is for our members at the front face, life would be even worse were it not for the efforts of Napo at national and local level and the professional expertise that we bring to the bargaining table.

Yes, there may be times when industrial action is inevitable; and in that respect we will always follow the direction and will of our members but when we do, we must mean business and deploy strategies that bring serious reputational and operational damage to the employer concerned if push comes to shove.

For that (as well as any negotiations we take part in) to succeed, our hand is always stronger when we have strength in numbers within all of the employers where we represent our members. We also need to encourage a new generation of local and national Napo representatives to emerge, and this is why we have recently launched a new training programme.

On top of the cheaper subscriptions that we now offer, we will soon be launching a new initiative to enhance the provision of additional services to members by way of a new and specially branded Napo benefits package, which should cover the cost of individual Napo membership by way of the available savings on offer.

Moving on together

Much of the content and the direction of travel in our recovery planning has been predicated on direct feedback from our members (including the excellent Gill Kirton report which features elsewhere in this edition of NQ).

I see the future relationship between the elected leadership of Napo and its members as not being in need of fundamental change, and which must build on the existing principles of honesty and transparency. As I said when I came to this great union and professional association eight years ago, our democratic structures and the (open to all) Annual General Meeting (which is advertised in this NQ) are precious jewels in the crown. Members can use these to hold the leadership to account and make an individual contribution to the professional aims and governance of Napo, and help the process of renewal. My experiences so far during the workplace meetings which I have been privileged to attend, indicates that the vast majority of you agree with those aims.

Napo is still here; and it’s here to stay for as long as our members say so.

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