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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 January 2010

Civil service compensation scheme: A fight for jobs and services

When the government announced plans to tear up the longstanding agreement on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS) they badly underestimated the anger of civil servants at this attack on their contractual redundancy and early retirement scheme. The new proposals would mean potential losses of tens of thousands of pounds for members in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy.

John McInally, National vice-president PCS, personal capacity

PCS members recognised this is an undisguised attempt to cut jobs and privatise on the cheap. In reality, the "savings" that ministers want to make can only be made on the basis of massive redundancies and privatisation. While the government is cynically trying to portray these proposals as an attempt to tackle "excessive" redundancy pay-outs for the tiny amount of highly paid civil servants, it is the low-paid majority who will be affected.

The PCS Democracy Alliance-led national executive committee (NEC) launched a consultation process with over a thousand meetings attended by over 35,000 members who overwhelmingly endorsed the union's opposition to the proposals. They backed the campaign to win a fair settlement, including taking legal and industrial action.

Over 18,000 members directly responded to the management consultation by letter and email, an astounding response that rattled permanent secretaries [civil service bosses] and ministers alike. Over 2,500 directly contacted their constituency MPs and 115 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion supporting the union's case.

Despite government promises that meaningful negotiations would take place, permanent secretaries, in a breach of trust that does them no credit, have tried to impose a settlement, which also, apparently, represents the government's "final position". This settlement actually contains concessions, but they are minor and affect few people. Overall, the proposals still represent a major detriment for the vast majority of PCS members.

Despite their so-called "impartiality" the majority of departmental permanent secretaries are a highly politicised bunch committed to the same pro-market ideology as their political 'masters'. They cynically ignore the overwhelming evidence that public servants deliver services better and more cheaply than the private sector and drive the cuts and privatisation agenda regardless of the damage to services.

More cuts

They display staggering disloyalty to their own low-paid staff. They care even less about the communities that will be stripped of services through job cuts and privatisation, with a potentially catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable and marginalised in society.

The government has learned nothing from the recession. Their response has been a stepping up of their cuts and privatisation programme as witnessed in their interim budget some months ago.

In an astonishing con trick the debate has been manipulated to focus on the "un-affordability" of public spending and the need to reduce the spending deficit rather than on the failure of the banking system and the unrestrained free market that caused the economic crisis in the first place.

Incapable of seeing any alternative to the pro-market ideology that has created economic chaos, this rudderless government is allowing the most hawkish of the permanent secretaries to lead them into a dispute, rather than reach a negotiated settlement. This, before a general election, will lose them the votes of hundreds of thousands of civil servants and their families.

There can be no justification for attacking the contractual rights of low-paid workers at a time when the rich and big business are evading tax to the tune of 100 billion a year. These proposals are aimed at clearing the path for a more generalised assault on jobs and conditions following the general election, PCS is correct to oppose them.

The PCS NEC is now launching a ballot for national discontinuous industrial action in order to force the type of fair settlement our members need and deserve.

It is likely the industrial action campaign will begin with a two-day national strike to be followed by further action if required. There will also be a national overtime ban.

A judicial review has been launched. Political lobbying will be stepped up and working with other civil service unions will be a top priority.

The union's National Campaign Liaison Committee, which consists of leading lay activists from all the various departments and bodies, met following the NEC and unanimously endorsed the national union strategy. This committee will be reconvened throughout the campaign - planning, accountability and consultation has always been at the heart of the NEC's campaign strategy.

As the PCS NEC was due to meet, management said they are prepared to talk further, this is of course very welcome but only if the negotiations are meaningful.

By sticking together, we protected pension rights when they came under attack in 2005, securing rights for existing staff and negotiating one of the better deals in the public sector for new entrants. We went on to secure a major agreement on job protection.

Campaigning works and action gets results. Our members understand this is a fight for jobs and services and we are determined to secure a fair and reasonable settlement, which is entirely achievable.

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