Previous circulars have set out issues regarding escalated requirements for PST3 (Arrest) training in Border Force North. Regrettably, we must now advise that this situation has taken still further turn for the worse. Border Force North are now moving headlong towards redeployment or dismissal of those who cannot or will not undertake PST3 training. We believe this strategy to be manifestly unnecessary and appalling treatment of loyal staff. – however BFN are undeterred by appeals to reason. We are committed to supporting members in any way we can – but we must give you all clear information in order best to inform individual choices.
If you don’t work in Border Force North this may not affect you immediately but, be in no doubt, there are ramifications here for all Border Force members.
In Spring 2015 a requirement for increased numbers of PST3 trained Border Force staff arose because of the implementation of the European Arrest Warrant. Through advance passenger data anyone subject to a warrant should be ‘flagged’ pre-arrival and police attendance arranged. However there does remain small possibility that a wanted offender might arrive unheralded or at a time and place where timely police attendance cannot be guaranteed. BF staff were therefore given powers to arrest (detain in Scotland) and hold such individuals for up to 3 hours pending police arrival.
The proportions of PST3 trained officers will necessarily vary by port but the general expectation, confirmed by NCC, was that up to 75% of staff would be a general average. In 2015 levels were set in BFN which were, mostly, slightly higher than that. The ISU did not always agree with the rationale but we felt it reasonable to await live experience and proceed on that basis.
Then in January 2016 something changed. All Border Force North PST3 cohort assessments were reviewed and most raised to 100% – the only two exceptions are Manchester Airport at 70% and Edinburgh Airport at 95%. It is clear to us that senior manager direction was an influential factor here.
The Latest Position
Because consultation with the ISU on these recent changes was conspicuous largely in absence Mark Gribbin wrote to Tony McMullin, Regional Director, Border Force North to ask for an explanation for the change of position and data supporting that. Mr McMullin replied in aggressive, dismissive and threatening tones.
The ISU has a Working Together Agreement with BF (and IE) committing to early, collaborative and constructive engagement. As difficult as life can get, we believe this works best for our members and for the Department. However constructive engagement was conspicuously missing here.
We raised concerns with Sir Charles Montgomery, Director General of Border Force. The agreement is under his signature and fully commits Border Force – yet a Regional Director appears able to breach that commitment. A formal complaint has now been submitted.
Despite being promised consultation, albeit now after decisions have been taken, this is still to occur in all Northern locations. What has taken place can hardly be described as collaborative or early engagement. Much of the data to support the position and answers to ISU questions have still to be provided. This is not to direct any blame on local managers in individual locations – they are acting under direction with no option but to comply.
Why have BFN taken this position?
We are told this it to maintain the security of the Border and to protect the health & safety of staff. But our request for information or data to support this position has been refused.
We have always agreed that there will be locations where a higher proportion of PST3 trained staff are needed. However we have no indication of any increased risk. We assume that if there had been any high number of unheralded EAW arrivals, that data would very promptly be shared as justification. Or if there had been an increase in violent incidents placing staff at risk there would be Health & Safety forms recording that. We are aware of neither. Failing to advance evidence in support of these conclusions reflects only dogmatic adherence to a pre-conceived position. Intransigence and an apparent desire to resist perceived defiance seem to us keynotes of the BFN position.
What are the ISU concerns?
There are many.
This position arises because of data shared with us under European Union Schengen arrangements. A referendum concerning our EU membership will occur in June. It is by no means clear what the consequences of an ‘Out’ vote would be – but entering substantial commitments against a backdrop of political uncertainty does not seem prudent at face value.
We are aware of a number of locations where staffing levels are such that it is not possible to conduct an arrest and maintain the Operating Mandate. Yet no instructions have been offered to staff around which takes priority. Do you arrest and abandon the PCP in breach of the Operating Mandate ? Or let the individual proceed ?
Many BFN ports do not have the space to detain an offender other than by sitting them in a public area at the PCP. What happens if you have non-compliant detainees, or one who poses a risk to vulnerable members of the public ? Is the detention of an individual in a public space compatible with their rights to privacy and dignity ? What if our restraint and detention are filmed and posted on Social Media ? How on earth can this activity be reflected in any reasonable ‘Safe System of Work’ or Risk Assessment documents ?
Maintaining a complete 100% PST3 requirement is manifestly impractical. Staff will be temporarily injured, go out of PST ticket or fall pregnant. However where Risk Assessments require 100% of staff to be PST3 capable and a port is temporarily short of this figure, then the terms of the Risk Assessment are unmet. Under those circumstances both staff and any manager who authorises an arrest would be completely unprotected in the event of injury. If people temporarily unable to undertake PST3 can be accommodated then, de facto, the position cannot in logic be that 100% PST3 cohort is required…..
If this leads to a number of dismissals how will BFN cope with the busy summer ahead ? Other than through the use of Seasonal Workforce staff who – curiously (!) – are exempt from the PST3 100% requirement
What is happening to members now?
Border Force North remain entirely implacable in their determination on this issue. HR processes to advance matters have begun in some locations. Those who have declined to give consent for pre-course health questionnaire or are deemed to have ‘refused’ to undertake the training are being invited to meetings where they are being given 12 weeks ( raised from 6 weeks following our objections ) to find alternative employment or face uncompensated dismissal. Greater measures will be taken to support those unfit to complete PST3 with priority for alternative roles and compensation if dismissal ultimately results.
What is the ISU View ?
This is truly odious employer conduct. Border Force North are determined to press ahead as firmly and quickly as they can. We had hoped that discussion would bring us to some reasonable compromise option, however there is no employer interest in that. Under these circumstances, we have to be straight with members.
Ultimate dismissal well may be challengeable at Employment Tribunal. But no Trade Union can responsibly advise members to take steps which we know, due to employer obduracy and unreasonableness, will culminate in dismissal. An unfair dismissal case may ultimately be won but that is an intensely difficult, lengthy and stressful process and is unlikely to get members their jobs back.
We hate to concede to corporate bullying. It feels every shade of wrong. However it is not our jobs on the line and not us who will suffer. We cannot advise members essentially to volunteer for dismissal.
We will represent everyone concerned with all that we have but ultimately it must be for individuals to decide, on the basis of all the facts we are able to give them, whether to acquiesce to PST3 training – and for us to support those choices as best we can.
What will happen in the future?
For most of us retirement age is now 67. It is distinctly possible that between where people now are and 67 they will reach a point where PST3 re-qualification can no longer be sustained. In regional locations redeployment alternatives are seldom readily available – and often come with a swingeing pay cut when they are – creating the very distinct possibility that people will simply lose their jobs. And this will come at a time of poor health when prospects for alternative employment will likely be at lowest ebb. Our members in some Border Force North locations already face this prospect.
Border Force North’s insistence on 100% PST3 coverage in almost every location is setting in train a slow motion disaster, with barely any apparent thought to inevitable consequences of hastily conceived actions. If senior managers do not care – and most members feel that they very genuinely could not care less – then staff must look out for themselves.
If you feel you may ever get old or ill, we advise against working for Border Force North anywhere other than Manchester Airport. Your future will not be secure – don’t go there. If you work there already, get out as early in life as you can.
Border Force North is no country to grow old.
There is still more…
In our exchanges with Tony McMullin we raised with him a point of membership concern brought to the ISU. In doing so, we made no allegations but simply sought clarification. Tony McMullin’s response was accusatory, unpleasant in tenor and threatened disciplinary action if the concern raised proved false. Of course, a concern may ultimately prove unfounded but when raised with good faith and genuine belief should never be subject to disciplinary sanction. The bluster and threat were entirely unacceptable – and unbecoming of a member of the Senior Civil Service.
Accordingly there has been no option but to bring forward formal stakeholder complaint concerning Tony McMullin’s conduct. This has been handled by Philip Duffy as Chief Operating Officer. He hasn’t so much as secured an apology to the ISU or our members. Indeed Mr McMullin has stated more recently that he stands by his comments as just part of the “cut and thrust” of employee relations. Those are the attitudes of another, bygone age and the ISU reject such foolishness out of hand. We are bitterly disappointed that such manifestly poor behaviour is condoned in Border Force where – it would rather appear – Home Office Values are discretionary for senior managers.
Unfortunately, as a matter of fundamental conscience, this leaves us no option but to issue advice we would never otherwise have even conceived of circulating. If you work in Border Force North and have issues of concern or conscience you wish to raise then you should not do so within your management chain. BFN members who have concerns they wish to raise relating to management practice are advised either to access the Whistle-Blower process and/or to consult the ISU in the first instance. In the event of management protestations around this advice, we are happy to publish the full e-mail exchanges between the Chair and General Secretary of the ISU and the Border Force North Regional Director.
These things should never be personal and we regret the need to name Tony McMullin in this way. However the ISU are simply not prepared to generalise our complaints in such a way that members might believe other senior managers to be responsible whereas they are, in fact, blameless.
The best of Border Force senior managers are exceptional people – the differences we have may at times be substantial but these are handled constructively and to best possible mutual satisfaction. We certainly have robust disagreements but there is civility and fundamental integrity. In our opinion, Border Force North leadership draws the constructive engagement we have elsewhere in Border Force into disrepute. And without apparent sanction.
We cannot exclude the possibility that this may simply be because what is now happening in the North will in due course be rolled out around the country, with similar disregard for staff…….
We will continue to press for the answers to questions raised on behalf of the membership. We will continue to defend and support staff who cannot or prefer not to be arrest trained. Where the avenue for legal challenge arises we will take this – but bear in mind that changes to the Tribunal system often mean that this cannot lead to a just outcome. We await response to the formal complaint we have made.
And most importantly we ask Border Force to demonstrate that they are better than this – they should come to the table and negotiate these issues in good faith, without placing ISU members at threat and with a view to reaching a fair, equitable resolution to these issues.
Lucy Moreton Mark Gribbin
General Secretary National Chair