MOJ pay deal accepted – we demand 10% and no strings attached

Members of public sector union PCS fighting cuts in the justice sector, photo Paul Mattsson

Members of public sector union PCS fighting cuts in the justice sector, photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Dave Bartlett, PCS Group executive member (personal capacity)

PCS members in the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) have just voted to accept a deal recommended by the leadership which trades conditions for pay. Socialist Party members in the union and the Broad Left Network opposed the deal.

Although l opposed it, I am not surprised the offer was accepted. For many members on the lowest grades, the attraction of a two-year back pay deal in the next pay packet, and a pay increase of 11% over three years, became, in the absence of any national campaign, the only alternative that was in view.

However, it would be a huge mistake to interpret the result as a massive endorsement for the union and satisfaction with the outcome. This deal is a classic case of concession bargaining where there is a clear line between gainers and losers. What you got in the offer depends on who you are, how long you have been in service and where you work.

For some members of many years’ service, at the top of their grade, the offer falls well short of the 11%. One legal adviser said to me: “If you add in the recently announced national insurance increases then the offer amounts to just 0.75%”!

The MOJ says this deal makes the department competitive with other sections in the civil service. It doesn’t. The lowest bands still trail behind and the average salary for legal advisers is £8,000 less than their equivalents in other departments, such as the Crown Prosecution Service.

Also, a number of allowances and other payments will be cut, which reduces the value of a pay deal as it will barely keep up with the expected rate of inflation over the three-year life of the deal.

The union has declared that 600 new members have joined during the ballot. It’s always a positive development when we see new members joining. The union must now make every effort to keep these members and, indeed, get some to become involved in union activities. If this is not done many of those who joined on the promise of a vote on the pay offer might just fade away, having cast their ballot.

Some members will gain from this deal in the short term. But if we are to avoid further deals which reward some and not others and trade conditions for pay, we need to absorb the lesson that there is no substitute for national collective bargaining and the need for a proper pay campaign around a minimum demand for 10% with no strings.

The national union leadership abandoned conference policy of a fight on pay at the outset of the pandemic, telling members as well as senior management “now is not the right time”. The effect of this was to weaken the confidence of members and strengthen the hand of the employer. Out of this failure we have now seen a shotgun marriage of concession bargaining, first in HMRC and now in the MOJ.