I was 19 when I started work in the Prison Service, previous to this I had worked for a short period at a publishing company and before that I had a part time job in a supermarket whilst I was at college.
I was attracted to the Prison Service for the same reasons I suppose most people are, thinking that it would be an interesting place to work. My parents encouraged me to take the job as they said the Civil Service would offer me a steady job, decent pension and a chance to transfer around the country if I wanted to (this was before the global banking crash we’re told we must pay for and even Gordon Brown as Chancellor boasting that he’d cut 100,000 civil service jobs). My first job was in the Post and Records room and my take home pay as an AA was around £630.00 a month.
One of the things that struck me about working in a prison was that there were few young people working here, most of my colleagues were at least twice my age. My previous workplaces had a high number of staff around my own age. I was (still am) a fairly quiet individual, although I never felt I had a particular problem communicating with people of a different age, I did feel a little isolated at times being in an office on my own for most of the day.
A few things that I found interesting in the Prison Service were the sort of quasi-military culture amongst staff. There were the Governors, the Officers (both mainly male) and the non-uniformed or ‘civilian’ staff (mainly female admin staff in the part of the prison where I worked). Was I really expected to call the No.1 Governor ‘Sir’? Other things I noticed were how many of the staff were related to each other and that training was fairly slap-dash, shall we say.
I joined PCS quite late into my first year working at the prison; again my parents had always said ‘if there’s a union where you work you should join it’. I did just that but thought little of it, viewing it as something I should call upon if I was ever in really deep trouble. I never dreamt I’d get involved and become a rep. I was quite naïve in some ways; after gaining promotion to AO (initially on a temporary basis) I agreed to take on further duties regarding IT and back up tapes for the LIDS system we used at the time, duties like this would now be aligned at a higher band than I was. Although I was mainly the cover for someone else who usually did the job (also as an additional duty which was nothing to do with his main role) I never questioned whether I should receive an additional payment or if it should be reflected in my SPDR marking.
The thing that really made me stand up and take notice of the role of the Union was the Equal Pay victory for PCS in the Prison Service in 2006. This demonstrated to me that collectively a union can make a real positive difference to members’ lives, in this instance pay justice for those mainly female admin grades. I received a pay rise and the lump sum of back pay whilst not life changing, paid for a holiday in the south of France.
If you’re a young member in NOMS today I’d advise you to stand up and take notice of what your union is doing and get involved. The PCS Young Members Network exists to help, develop and provide a voice for people like you