By a Probation Service Unison activist
WITH privatisation legislation now heading for the House of Lords, the probation unions Napo and Unison need to urgently organise for joint action to stop the rot. We’ve got an uphill task.
UK-wide probation areas are preparing for the first raft of privatisations. Probation areas have been told to spend more of their budget on buying services from the private sector, and this is already going ahead.
In some cases such “outsourcing” will mean probation work being carried out by other public sector organisations (which the union hasn’t opposed in principle); but it could also mean work being taken over by the private sector.
Either way, it signals the beginning of the privatisation process that the new legislatio will simply accelerate. Unpaid Work (community service) and probation hostels are the most likely targets for privatisation in the near future.
Meanwhile the unrelenting barrage of Home Office driven “reforms” and uncertainty over the future of probation has led to low morale and high levels of work-related stress amongst probation workers. Another workload crisis looms, with caseloads driven up to unbearable levels in the scramble to meet Home Office targets.
Napo has run an decent campaign so far, lobbying MPs and highlighting the impact privatisation will have on the supervision of offenders. Unison has lagged behind but, under pressure from Unison activists, is stepping it up. Unison's focus has, however, tended to be on ensuring the best protection for members who face privatisation rather than a serious campaign of opposition.
Both Napo and Unison must now get together co-ordinated industrial action across probation areas to oppose privatisation. The most vulnerable parts of probation will largely involve Unison members, but any straegy must involve both unions to be effective.
The huge local government pensions strike in April of last year showed, for the first time in practice, the potential for joint industrial action across the probation service. The unions must build on this experience and fight to keep probation in the public sector.