Following five days of industrial action in just over six months, that Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have taken, management have finally come back to the negotiating table. All five strike days had tremendous support and it is as a result of members' action that management have been forced to engage with us again.
After months of intransigence on all the issues, management have now made clear that there is potential to negotiate. Important as these concessions are, they are not what our members need or deserve, but they show that campaigning works and industrial action gets results.
Members will be reassured to see that there has been some progress as a result of our action. It is almost unprecedented that we have won some concessions in the middle of a dispute.
Our pay ballot also included non-pay areas of importance to members. We have a commitment from management that the hated appraisal system PDS will be abolished next year. This system in effect has quotas for the marking we get at the end of the year and is directly linked to performance-related pay. Management have indicated that they want to negotiate an agreed appraisal system to replace PDS.
They have also committed to remove the "must give a warning" part of the sickness absence policy. The attendance management policy is the bane of our members' lives, with many dragging themselves into work whilst still sick to avoid a warning. There is intense pressure on line managers to issue warnings after eight days absence in 12 months and to prevent them from using their discretion and judgment that warnings are not appropriate. Talks on this issue are extremely significant, given the numbers of members who fall foul of the procedures, through no fault of their own.
Industrial relations have been at an all-time low in the department. Management have also committed to talks on a new employee relations policy. There seems to be a recognition from management that the union is strong in DWP and that members support the union leadership, so action is clearly bringing results.
Management are also concerned, given that this year will be a difficult one to deliver all the government's welfare 'reforms' with far fewer staff in the DWP. The union will be campaigning hard against these 'reforms', recognising that they pose a serious threat to the welfare state, in particular Hutton's proposals to extend the use of charities in the delivery of DWP services.
Despite the fact that we are still in the middle of our pay dispute, management have found an extra £16 million, which will be paid into July pay packets of those who did worst in imposed pay offer. So about 30% of staff will have an extra 1% paid to them.
We are clear that we need to continue to fight for an inflation-proofed pay rise to all our members in the DWP. The talks in DWP will continue to include pay and explore ways to fund increases to our members' pay and for the consolidation of all top-up payments. We will be reconvening the group executive (GEC) quickly to review the progress of talks and the dispute. The GEC unanimously agreed this way forward.
However the intransigence of the government and the Treasury in imposing the 2% pay restraint is what is really causing the problem. The Treasury has refused to increase the funding to the DWP. We are clear that whatever improvements we can make with the DWP management for all our members, the real fight needs to be continued at national level.
DWP PCS members will be at the forefront of the national civil service-wide PCS ballot on pay in the autumn to build the strength of the union to fight for inflation-proofed pay rises for all PCS members and for all workers across the public sector.