Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers Debate

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Department: HM Treasury

Financial Reward for Government Workers and Key Workers

Grahame Morris Excerpts
Monday 14th December 2020

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Grahame Morris Portrait Grahame Morris (Easington) (Lab)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. I thank my good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Tonia Antoniazzi), for opening this important debate on behalf of the Petitions Committee.

In the time I have, I will talk about two particular groups of key public sector workers: prison officers and firefighters. Both are key Government workers. Prison officers in particular deserve our praise, recognition and respect for their bravery—as, indeed, do firefighters—not only during the pandemic but year in, year out. As hon. Members may well know, prison officers are banned from taking industrial action; it is a criminal offence even to suggest that they should, for example, start working to rule. In return for the loss of that most basic human right, the independent Prison Service Pay Review Body was established in 2001 to make recommendations on pay, which the Government agreed to follow in all but the most exceptional circumstances. To encourage people to join and stay in the Prison Service, the independent Prison Service Pay Review Body recommended a significant pay rise for band 3 offices on fair and sustainable contracts, with new, modernised terms, ending the effectively two-tier workforce.

Five months ago, the Government promised to consider that recommendation and to consult the recognised trade union, the Prison Officers Association, on its implementation. However, on Thursday last, the Government rejected the recommendation, claiming it was unaffordable, without having had any discussion with the Prison Officers Association. Prison officers are understandably angry and have accused the Government of nothing less than pay betrayal. I understand that the Prison Officers Association intends to launch legal action against this decision, and I hope it will receive the full backing of all hon. Members in this place today.

The Prison Service is clearly experiencing a crisis in recruitment and retention, especially of band 3 officers, the main operational entry grade into the service. The review body calculates the cost of new recruits leaving after less than two years’ service at around £30 million per annum, a wasteful and inefficient use of public money. That is why the pay review body recommended an immediate £3,000 uplift in pensionable pay, to try to stem the rising tide of resignations. The Government claim that is unaffordable. However, no exceptional circumstances have been cited to justify their decision, as is required. The Government have earmarked around £4 billion for a new generation of private prisons yet claim to have no money to pay prison officers. This is an abuse of power and an insult to people’s intelligence.

The situation is unfair and unsustainable, and our prisons suffer as officers vote with their feet and leave the service, taking with them valuable skills, knowledge and experience at a time when we need it most. The Government must think again, treat our prison officers with the respect they deserve, get round the negotiating table with the POA, and make a fair and sustainable offer.

I also want to mention firefighters. I chaired a meeting of the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group this afternoon. Firefighters had a pay freeze in 2010 and 2011, followed by a 1% public sector pay cap imposed for six years from 2012 to 2017—

Graham Stringer Portrait Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
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Order. I call Lilian Greenwood.