Keeping our workers safe in the justice and custodial sector #StandingTogether22

As delivered to Community’s Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast on June 1st 2022.

Conference, Andy Taylor speaking on the NEC’s support for Motion 19 on keeping our workers safe in the justice and custodial sector.

Conference, as part of the Keep Us Safe campaign, our union has been working tirelessly to improve the conditions of workers in the justice and custodial sector.

Harassment is something way too many workers must deal with way too often. Nobody should go to work afraid of what they will face, and abuse or violence should never be an everyday workplace hazard.

Research conducted as part of the Keep Us Safe campaign last year revealed the true extent of harassment in the justice and custodial sector.

It showed that 86% of those in the sector had been verbally abused in the past twelve months. Over a quarter reported that they have been abused daily, and another third stated that they have been verbally abused weekly. These figures might come as a shock to you but for those of us who work in the justice sector, they are our every day reality.

The ongoing harassment of justice and custodial workers is having a real detrimental impact on the sector. Official figures show that the prison system alone has lost a cumulative total of more than 86,000 years of prison officer experience since 2010.

Working in the justice and custodial sector has become increasingly unattractive for those who might have looked to get into the sector and to those already within it.

Conference, by backing this motion, Community will continue to work to Keep Us Safe.

The Government must work with staff, employers, and unions to develop a clear and measurable plan to reduce assaults on staff year on year.

Assaulting staff must lead to tough responses. Most staff who have been subjected to assault report it to their employer, yet the majority are dissatisfied with the outcome. In some cases, no action is taken at all.

This situation is unacceptable, and both employers and the Government must ensure staff subjected to assaults receive proper support and the offender faces consequences for their actions.

There must be an improvement in health and safety standards across the sector. Key to ensuring officers in the justice and custodial sector can do their work in safety is providing them with the right equipment.  This includes body-worn cameras for courts and prisoner escorting officers.

Low staffing levels and lone working have a direct impact on officers’ ability to do their work safely. This is not merely an issue of the number of officers working across the sector, this is also about the years of experience they have.

We know that more experienced officers are better at dealing with difficult situations and de-escalating tensions. The Government must set a plan for retaining long-standing officers in the sector.

Finally, there must be a parity of respect for all officers. It is a simple principle – officers doing the same kind of job should be shown the same respect, whether they are working with a private provider or in the public justice system.

Conference, ending harassment in the industry will not be an easy process, but it is a necessary one. We must continue to work to keep us safe. Please back this motion. Thank you.

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