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Napo at the NSSN Conference

Napo National Official, Annoesjka Valent, attended the National Shop Stewards Network Conference on 24 June and addressed delegates.

Annoesjka said the following:

Comrades, first of all, I bring you solidarity on behalf of Napo and apologies from Ian Lawrence, General Secretary, who wishes for it to be a successful conference today.

Last year, when I spoke, we were in negotiations over a 3-year pay claim. The offer that came back, though it fell far short of the claim we submitted with UNISON and the GMB, was accepted by each of our respective memberships.

Napo therefore has not been part of the massive strike wave that we have seen, but our members have shown solidarity on picket lines with other striking workers and have been involved in the protests around the vicious Tory Strike Bill. Our members, though not yet directly affected by this, believe, if this goes ahead, they might well be next, like many other workers in other sectors.

Workloads are now at absolute breaking point. Many probation officers hold far above what are safe and acceptable caseloads. There is a Workload Measurement Tool (called WMT) and we did a Workloads Survey recently where members were reporting to be even on 180% to 190%, basically holding almost double the amount of cases they should hold, and this also counted for newly qualified officers.

Some of the comments received when asking about how many cases:

  • Too many, currently off with work stress and anxiety
  • I don’t work with cases any longer. I used to be 144% on the WMT and because a colleague was at 150% I was told I had ‘wiggle room’. I have been working over my hours for 9 years now just to cover risk effectively.
  • Working at 180% on WMT. Caseload of 60 high risk cases. I’m overworked and on this caseload I can’t complete urgent tasks. The public aren’t protected, victims are at increased risk. There is not enough time to do it all.

When asked about what they find the most challenging about their role, one member probably summed it up most poignantly:

  • Knowing that you can’t be the practitioner you want to be because there isn’t time. Knowing you’re likely to have missed things. Knowing that my children get the rough end of my parenting abilities because all my emotional capacity has been used at work. Repeatedly reading and exploring trauma and harm. Repeatedly engaging with those who are wanting to cause themselves harm. Seeing the impact of the job on colleagues. Living with the absolute indifference of regional and national management.

And when we asked how morale was in the office:

  • Never seen it so low. People are dropping on their feet
  • Pretty awful. Nobody really wants to be there.  I am looking at cases of burnout all over the place
  • Everyone looks stressed, stretched, worried, it’s not a good place to work.
  • Very, very low. I see people crying all the time. I saw one on Thursday last week and another colleague on Friday. And I am in the office only 3 days a week. Or colleagues are laughing/crying when it is so stressful. People in teams are keeping each other going.
  • I can only speak for my office but people are exhausted and do not feel appreciated. Officers work day and night to barely be able to afford paying rent and food.
  • Look at staff suicide rates, look at staff off sick with work related stress…. staff morale is so low people are literally killing themselves… so I’d say its shockingly shit at best.

Now I’ve gone in some length giving you these examples, but it is for the reason that people do not realise what it is our members do on a daily basis in trying to keep the public safe.

Napo gives very specific advice to members around Workloads which is to submit a form called a Foreseeability Notice, where you’re basically telling your manager you are at breaking point and if no steps are taken to do something about it, likelihood of suffering ill-health could render the Service liable for damages.

Ironically, in one office a member got nearly all their colleagues to sign these notices, only to be called into the office of the head of unit and basically told to stop it as she was bringing the morale down…

The increased Workloads, impact on members’ health, safety and wellbeing and staff leaving as a result, has led to an acute staffing and retention crisis as another comment from the survey told us:

  • We are repeatedly told that the office we are in is well staffed. However every officer I have spoken to is struggling to manage. 5 officers have requested transfers and 4 officers left in the past month.

The Service has a 29% vacancy rate. In the year to the end of March 2023, 832 Probation Officers left the Service, an increase of 15.2% compared to the year before. In their own words as quoted from the HMPPS Workforce Quarterly “The number of leavers has increased considerably since June 2021, which is likely attributable to competition in the labour market”.

That’s why we have been working for the past months towards the launch of a joint probation trade union Campaign (with UNISON and GMB), called ‘Operation Protect’ – Protecting the Public, Protecting our Members & Protecting our Profession

This will be launched on Monday, which is symbolic as it will be exactly 2 years since the work was taken back from the private companies and the Service was reunified.

But this Workloads Campaign is very much linked to Pay.

Now, there may be a perception that staff in Probation and Cafcass are well paid, however for the lowest paid bands, administrator type grades in Probation, the starting salary is around £19K, the starting salary for a qualified probation officer is £33K, which in the current economic crisis I wouldn’t exactly call exuberant, especially for the constant daily stress you’re faced with if something goes wrong with one of your cases, you’ll likely be scapegoated, rather than the fact that the Service has been under incessant and damaging changes and under-resourcing and investment by this government for about a decade.

The Government literally has blood on their hands over this failed privatisation experiment.

Therefore, even though the offer on the probation side was accepted and we’re one year into the three-year pay deal, we are now re-opening pay negotiations on that deal, and we are submitting a claim for a 12% increase on all pay points effective from 1 April 2023 and an unconsolidated (one-off) payment of £2,500.

Last year when we were negotiating the three-year pay award, we were told that there was no more money to improve the offer, however just in the past couple of weeks, the £1,500 one-off payment announcement covering last year, the 2022/23 pay year in the Civil Service, shows the Government has the money to improve the pay of staff.

Also on the Family Court side, we recently surveyed our members over the cost-of-living crisis and some of the anecdotal responses were an equally stark read:

  • “I can barely afford to meet my outgoings or buy necessities for my child. It gets to the point where I consider leaving and going to a social work agency, just so I can keep up with the cost of living
  • Needing to have another job on top of my working hours with Cafcass to make ends meet
  • Pay is not comparable to local authority pay and benefits. My bills have risen so staying at Cafcass will be unavoidable for me. Staff are leaving to do the same. The workforce is becoming unstable in our team adding pressure to us all.
  • Most of the time my wages are gone within the first week on all my bills, debts and food shop etc, and I spend the rest of the month surviving week to week on my child benefit which has to cover things the children need, weekly food top ups and petrol and parking for work. It really is a struggle to get by and extremely stressful. I find it difficult to concentrate on my job at times as I am so stressed, and I definitely feel this impacting on my health.

In Cafcass staff are leaving to work for social work agencies or move to Local Government where pay now is higher. As in Probation, in Cafcass, turnovers rates have increased rapidly and are now at 14.6% compared with 9.9% pre-pandemic for social workers.

So also we have recently submitted our claim (a joint claim with UNISON) for 2023/2024 pay year of an increase in the value of all pay points of 3% above the Retail Prices Index (RPI) of inflation as forecast for 1 April 2023 at 11.1%.

So, we will see what the negotiations both in Probation and Cafcass will bring.

I’ll finish now, but to say, despite not having joined other workers already in struggle yet last year, our members are fed up being trampled on and the likelihood of joining in with other workers in a fight against this government, knowing full well the proposed vicious attacks on the right to strike is to stop the fight for decent working conditions and pay, so this could very well be on the agenda for us again in the near future.

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