The day got off to a great start when The Guardian covered the launch of the report highlighting the impact on staff Probation Service Split: ‘staff are staring into the abyss’ http://www.theguardian.com/public-leaders-network/2016/feb/23/privatisation-probation-service-stressed-job-cuts.
Napo members gathered with officers and officials to hear Professor Kirton and Cecille Guillaume present their findings, we also heard Sharon Sukhram speak about the wider TUC speak up for justice campaign. This first part of the session could have left the listener with a sense of despondency, hearing about the awful impact of TR on staff from a third party seems so make it more real. One of the members who participated in the research said that it was their only chance to sit and consider the impact of TR and having this reflection time is both difficult and helpful. Hearing about the wider struggles within the Justice System only compounds our own experience of hurt, knowing that other parts of our treasured system are in similar disarray could make us fear even more for our future.
The theme for the second part of the session was more hopeful however, as Sharon spoke about the collective struggle of the Speak up for Justice Campaign and the many supporters seeking to limit the worst excesses of the Government’s drive to reduce the state and reserve justice only for those who can afford to pay for it. Knowing that we are not alone in our fight should give us strength to continue.
Napo National Official Ranjit Singh spoke about the lessons learned from the experience of those branches working for Sodexo. The branches were the first to face large scale redundancies as a result of TR (although Greater London Branch faced a similar situation with Serco as a result of the Unpaid Work sell off prior to TR). Ranjit spoke of the difficulties that the branches faced and also of the difficulties of a national structure set up to deal with three employers that now faces many more employers with additional layers of complexity due to the ownership arrangements and negotiating and bargaining structures. The theme that Ranjit brought out was that of resilience. The research highlights this as a defining feature of Probation staff even before TR. Ranjit explained how the resilience of staff in these branches saw them through the huge challenge of redundancies and restructuring and how their resilience continues to fuel their attempts to maintain safe working conditions despite Sodexo’s attempts to impose changes that leave staff and clients vulnerable. Ranjit spoke of the importance of sharing these experiences to ensure that CRCs can retain their resilience through similar struggles with their owners. A strong and united trade union is the best way to achieve this.
Our final speaker was Ian Lawrence, General Secretary who spoke of the need for our union to be more responsive to members, to pull together and share our strength to continue the fight to protect our service and our union. We heard that TR and the actions of some of the CRC owners were designed not just to break up Probation but also to target the trade unions who are perceived to have too much power. Ian spoke about the need to adapt the way our union works to the changes in our workplaces, we cannot reverse the impact of TR but we can preserve our collective power to challenge the employers.