John Lister —

While Matt Hancock continues to insist that now is “not the time” to discuss any increase in NHS pay, the Prison Service and the National Probation Service have agreed to fork out substantial bonuses in addition to overtime payment to staff willing to commit in advance to working an extra 9 hours per week for 4 or 12 weeks.

A March 23 document outlining “exceptional Covid-19 Special payment Schemes,” leaked to The Lowdown, makes clear that the deal has the approval of the Treasury, and will be implemented “with immediate effect”.

It offers an extra £500 for operational prison staff on top of overtime pay for those who sign up for 4 weeks, giving a total additional payment of £1,292: for those willing to commit to 12 weeks of overtime averaging 9 hours a week (to be worked over 14 weeks) the bonus is £1750 and the total additional payment would be £4,126.

Similar bonus payments on top of overtime pay are open to non-operational prison staff, with a £1,500 per month bonus payable to Operational Managers who work additional hours: and there is also “exceptional bonus payments” of £20 per shift for “Escorts and Bedwatch” staff dealing with prisoners suspected to be infected with Covid-19.

The document also outlines similar payments for probation officers and management, and in addition agrees an additional £150 per month Covid-19 Special Circumstances payment to “any staff working in an offender facing role” or those who volunteer for additional duties “to support the operational line”.

Prison officers are on pay scales similar to nursing staff, beginning on £22-£30,000. The trade unions that have negotiated the deal, NAPO for prison staff, along with UNISON and GMB for the probation service, have been pressing on other pay issues and on additional safety measures for staff during the Covid-19 pandemic: UNISON stresses that any agreement to work the extra overtime is purely voluntary.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrat acting leader Ed Davey has suggested front line NHS staff proposal should be paid an additional £29 per day, as the equivalent to the daily operational allowance payable to UK military personnel when they are deployed on specific operations in “demanding” conflicts.

Hancock has rejected this. But NHS staff (who have been told any increase is out of the question, told to re-use single use PPE, threatened if they raise any public complaint at the lack of adequate safety measures, and fobbed off with a weekly round of applause), private contractors’ staff working in support services – many of them with inferior sick pay and other terms and conditions compared with NHS staff – and social care staff, many scraping a living well below the living wage and offered only one of Matt Hancock’s green badges instead of PPE, may well feel aggrieved.

If it’s fair to reward the extra efforts and “bedwatch” duties of prison staff in these stressful and potentially dangerous times, why not NHS and social care staff too?

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