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From The Socialist newspaper, 3 February 2010

Civil service strike ballot as talks fail

Negotiations between civil service union PCS and management and ministers to reach a settlement on plans to change the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (see issue 608 of The Socialist) have failed. A settlement could easily have been reached within the financial parameters set out by the government. But the real issue here is not money but the ideological imperative that dictates the government must be seen to be tough on the civil service.

John McInally, national vice-president PCS, personal capacity

There is real anger already amongst civil servants at this attempt to tear up their contractual rights. It represents the theft of their accrued rights but they also know the new proposals are designed to make it easier to cut jobs and privatise on the cheap.

Members know these attacks on rights, terms and conditions are part of the race to the bottom that is intended to strip back to the minimum any job security working people may have.

Concessions were secured in previous talks and more were floated in the latest negotiations. But even these would have left up to 40% of PCS members suffering substantial financial detriment in event of redundancy. And concessions were based on the demand that the union gives up its rights to take industrial and legal action.

This was clearly not acceptable. A special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) confirmed its previous decision to ballot members from 4 February on industrial action and action short of a strike, in order to bring the employer back around the table to negotiate a fair and reasonable settlement. The ballot runs until 25 February.

There has been a real sense of unity within PCS on opposing these changes and that must now be translated into the best possible ballot result. That will be the way to maximise pressure for a fair settlement.

PCS will increase direct political pressure too by urging members to contact MPs in their own constituencies. So far 130 have signed an early day motion opposing the changes.

PCS will do all it can to keep all the other unions in the Council of Civil Service Unions together in the campaign. But this "final" offer, the fifth final offer, has seen some unions moving to acceptance.

This is short-sighted, especially given the experience of the pensions battle in 2005 when we were told a deal protecting rights for existing members was fantasy. Yet by demonstrating determination and solidarity this was precisely what was achieved.

PCS will continue to demand further talks to resolve this dispute but the over-arching priority right now for PCS activists is to deliver the best ballot result to secure negotiations.

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