Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/513/3505
DWP strike: Fighting low pay
PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are being called out on strike on 6-7 December over an outrageous imposed three-year pay offer. In real terms this would mean a pay cut for the next three years.
Jane Aitchison, PCS DWP group president, personal capacity
PCS members expected a pay battle this year, given all that Gordon Brown was saying about holding down public-sector pay. A figure of 2% maximum was widely trailed but in DWP, staff have had increases capped at 2% this year, 0% next year and 1% the year after - an average of only 1% each year.
With inflation currently running at 4.2% these are significant pay cuts, cuts that low-paid workers cannot afford to bear.
At this year's TUC congress Gordon Brown talked about public-sector pay restraint as being necessary to prevent a return to boom and bust. For many of these workers a pay cut of this magnitude could lead them to go bust right now.
Cripplingly low pay
Many DWP staff are very low-paid workers. Most of them earn less than £20,000 a year, the lowest paid earn just above the national minimum wage.
The national minimum wage has gone up in line with inflation - our wage rates haven't. That means we are actually moving closer towards the minimum wage under this pay offer, not further away from it like we should.
After the imposition of this pay offer the lowest paid members are 24p above the national minimum wage level. There is a real danger that during the course of the three-year deal as it stands, DWP management could be forced to increase the worst paid just to stay within the law on the national minimum wage!
Many members have seen their rent or mortgage payments go up, council tax rise and travel costs rocket. Many staff already rely on benefits to top up their wages, some of them would be better off on benefits full stop. As benefit advisers they obviously know that - it makes them so angry.
Not enough money for some
Management are adamant that there isn't enough money to get a settlement. It's obvious that when billions can be found to bail out Northern Rock, money isn't really the problem, it's a matter of political will.
In talks, management did have enough money on the table to guarantee everyone a rise in line with inflation if they had spent it properly. Instead, when they imposed the pay offer last Friday, they also paid out £39 million in bonuses. Top managers got bigger bonuses than serving soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senior managers are not included in this pay deal; they got a 9% pay rise.
Imposing this pay offer on 30 November, forcing members to strike just before Christmas and causing claimants to worry about their benefits is very callous. Losing two days' pay in your Christmas pay packet is really hard. But we all know we have to because it's not just about this Christmas but also the next one and the one after that. We want justice on pay.
Continuing to attack low-paid workers will only deepen the unpopularity of the government. We need a settlement now.
DWP members will now have taken 17 days of strike action in the last four years, it must be pretty obvious that we are not going to just roll over.
There will be picket lines at every jobcentre, benefit office, pension centre and Child Support Agency office - come and show your support.
In The Socialist 6 December 2007:
Workplace news and analysis
What we think
International socialist news and analysis
Socialist Party review
Post Office and CWU