Fighting to keep probation public

Submitted by Matthew on 16 January, 2013 - 11:55

Tell us a little bit about the work you do.

I work for London Probation Trust as an administrator. The role entails giving clerical support to Probation Officers. I am also a trade union activist in our Unison branch.

Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?

No. We’ve had a pay freeze for two years. With the price of everything going up, in real terms we’re taking a pay cut, year in year out. Our conditions aren’t bad in comparison to some other workplaces, however this is now at risk with the looming privatisation.

How have recent moves towards privatisation affected your work?

The government are looking to privatise 70% of the service to private or voluntary organisations, although I suspect it will be exclusively private companies. Serco have already taken over Community Payback and, as a result, our union branch has lost around 70 members.

Serco have already cut jobs and London Probation did a round of voluntary redundancies to minimise compulsory redundancies before the takeover. I predict a lot more job losses if 70% of the service gets broken up and flogged off. Workers are angry and the sense of insecurity is staggering. We simply don’t know what the service will look like in the future, and a lot of us feel disheartened and undervalued.

What do people talk about in your workplace?

Pay, job security, and privatisation. Union meetings are getting bigger and there’s a growing sense of anger amongst the workers. The problem I face as a union activist is that too many people are scared of being victimised for getting involved in the branch, so galvanising workers is challenging. I try to educate people as to what’s happening to the probation service. Building on and responding to people’s anger is vital to organising an effective fight back.

What are your bosses like? Is there a problem with bullying and harassment by bosses?

There are cases of this, yes. I’ve worked in plenty of private, non-unionised companies and it’s safe to say bullying, harassment and victimisation is a bigger problem there. However, as job insecurity grows, so does the problem of management bullying. Managers know jobs are no longer safe and they use this to exploit workers fears by piling extra workloads onto us and expect we’ll be too afraid too speak up.

Is there a union in your workplace, and does it do a good job?

There are three recognised unions in the London Probation. NAPO (National Association of Probation Officers), Unison and GMB. Unison, my union, do a good job at branch level. We represent clerical workers, receptionists and some officers. Our resources are limited and our biggest obstacle is a large-ish but fairly inactive branch (500 members).

We dispute all proposed restructures that lead to job losses and we’re currently preparing a fightback against privatisation. How this fightback will look, we don’t yet know. I would say our branch is effective in winning disputes. NAPO, while doing an okay job at our workplace on some issues, still have that old craft union or staff association attitude.

For example, when the bosses proposed all workers move to a 37.5 hour working week from 35, NAPO didn’t dispute this on the basis that Probation Officers already did a 37.5 hour week. They were trying to level workers down and I’ve never forgiven them for that. GMB are the management branch, so we seldom communicate with them.

If you could change one thing about your work, what would it be?

To keep it public!

• For more in the My Life At Work series, see here

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