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Posted on 8 February 2010 at 20:28 GMT

PCS ballot has begun

The ballot organised by the civil service union PCS for industrial action over plans to change the Civil Service Compensation Scheme has began.

John McInally, national vice-president PCS, personal capacity

The head of the civil service, Sir Gus O'Donnell, has called on members not to support the union's call to vote 'yes' to protect their contractual rights.

O'Donnell uses the fact that five other unions in the Council of Civil Service Unions (CCSU) have agreed to the latest changes proposed by the government.

Ironically, the latest changes, floated in recent negotiations, have been secured by the angry response from PCS members to the original draconian proposals and the determined negotiating stance of PCS negotiators and national executive committee (NEC).

The leaders of some of the unions who have agreed the deal would have accepted the original proposals and at every stage, particularly the FDA and Prospect, have argued for taking whatever the government offered. This is no way to defend their members.

No way to defend their members

Accepting this offer is a damaging and grave error of judgement.

PCS could not have accepted such a divisive offer. Our members are proud of the union's tradition of solidarity and unity, not for sentimental or sloganeering reasons but because campaigning, including being prepared to take industrial action as a last resort and hard negotiating from a position of strength, gets results.

While these proposals do secure greater protection for lower paid members they still leave a very large proportion of members, between 35% and 40%, unprotected and liable to huge financial detriment in the event of compulsory redundancy.

Acceptance of the 'offer' was conditional on all CCSU unions agreeing the proposals and that any industrial or legal action be abandoned.

PCS rejected this attempt to divide members. It would have been entirely wrong to sign away the rights of so many members without even making an attempt to secure a settlement that offered protection to all members.

Entirely achievable

A fair settlement is entirely achievable, but only if we stick together, in solidarity.

The Northern Ireland Public Services Association (NIPSA) has also rejected the proposals.

The issue here is simple - the government is attempting to tear up the contractual rights of civil servants in order to steal from us the accrued rights and entitlements accumulated over years of dedicated service.

This is so they can drive through tens of thousands of job cuts and privatise services on the cheap.

O'Donnell is making the most of the agreement with the other unions (Prospect, FDA, GMB, Unite and the Prison Officers Association) in order to attack PCS.

But the other unions combined represent just 20% of civil service union membership - Prospect representing about 25,000 in specialist roles and the FDA about 12,000 higher paid managers.

GMB and Unite represent small numbers of staff in the Ministry of Defence. In the case of GMB and Unite their members are largely protected by the new arrangements but the other unions are not.

PCS represents 80% of civil service trade union members, and many more in related public services, and is a 'vertical' union - it represents all grades.

Some union leaders just don't want to learn. In 2005 the same people in FDA and Prospect who have just signed up to the government's proposals told PCS that securing pension rights for existing staff was unachievable.

By sticking together then the unions secured those rights without even having to take strike action.

PCS will continue to campaign for a fair settlement. The 'agreement' between the five unions is a distraction that will fool no-one. PCS's ballot is now underway and all activists are working hard to secure the best YES vote possible in order to secure the type of agreement their members need and deserve.

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