#NQ5 Ian Lawrence writes

Where next for Collective Bargaining?

The changes to Napo’s operational priorities compared with the industrial world we inhabited before Transforming Rehabilitation has been as massive as we predicted and much more besides.

Moving from three National Bargaining areas (The Probation Association, Cafcass and the Probation Board of Northern Ireland) to 24 employers has tested our resilience and our finances, and has also posed major challenges for our own hard pressed representatives wherever they work.

Add to this the general squeeze on facilities time, the inconsistent approach to workload relief, the cynical attack on our finances by way of the cessation of check off, and the fact that many of our longstanding activists were among those who no longer saw any future in a divided service, we have all had a bit of a rough time to say the least.

Doing the right thing for members

Faced with what Napo has gone through, many unions would have pressed the panic button and run for the exit marked merger; but Napo aren’t just any other union or professional association.

Among other things, the disastrous TR experience has all but destroyed the previously longstanding and generally very effective bargaining arrangements that had been established with employers.

Privatisation, as I have mentioned many times before, is as much about removing the confidence of the workforce that their views will make a difference to the employers’ strategy, as it is about securing profit. All too often this strategy is successful from the employers’ view as the ability of trade unions to mount traditional responses (direct industrial action) becomes increasingly difficult.

This is one of those unpalatable facts of life that leaves those of us (me especially) who have considerable experience of running successful strike ballots and helping members  to deliver action in a frustrated state of mind, but it does not signify any acceptance that our cause is lost.

That’s why we have made it clear that following the recent indicative ballot, that where circumstance and/or the wishes of members dictate, we will organise similar exercises of formal processes in response to unscrupulous employers.

Napo has a reputation for trying to do the right thing for members and that means first and foremost, ensuring that we are at the negotiating table at all levels for all of our members; protecting and promoting their interests and fulfilling that essential contract which is an expectation when members sign up to pay over their hard earned subscriptions.

Where next?

In probation, the demise of the established national negotiating machinery (the NNC) since last year’s Napo AGM decision was taken to defend collective bargaining, has caused understandable anxiety and some internal debate about the most appropriate strategy going forward.

The consensus view of the Napo Officer Group was that we should indicate our willingness to develop employer specific bargaining arrangements whilst making it absolutely clear that the policies contained in the final version of the NNC handbook at 21st May 2014 and the National Staff Transfer and Protections Agreement remain as our ‘line in the sand’ and that the collective employer specific agreements whether they be with the NPS, Probation Board of Northern Ireland or Pan-CRC will only be acceptable provided that they recognise Napo’s national standards on Pay and Workloads. This objective has been the driver for the launch of our two corresponding campaigns.

Difficult, uncertain and challenging times require Napo to respond as effectively and intelligently as we can to the many needs of our members. It means putting the appropriate training in to meet the needs of Napo staff and local Napo reps, and it means building confidence back at grass roots level, that this union can and will make a difference to the working lives of our members.

As I have also said many times before, I cannot deliver that on my own, but working collectively with common purpose  and resolve, we can send a powerful signal to all employers that Napo is here and here to stay.

Ian Lawrence
General Secretary


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