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From The Socialist newspaper, 9 September 2009

Civil service compensation scheme

PCS members prepare to fight cuts and privatisation

Having poured billions of tax-payers' money into bailing out the banks, the government is preparing to step up its ongoing war on the public sector. New proposals for "reform" of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS) are intended to make it cheaper to cut jobs, privatise services and close offices.

John McInally, national vice-president of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS).

Labour's pro-market policies are based on the lie that the public sector is wasteful and inefficient and only the private sector can deliver. This has provided the ideological basis for their relentless assault on the public sector and particularly the civil service.

One hundred thousand jobs have gone since 2004, there have been remorseless attacks on workers' terms and conditions. Hundreds of offices have been closed, stripping many vulnerable communities of important services and there has been more privatisation than under the Thatcher/Major governments.

Labour has learned nothing from the recession. Its response has been to step up its cuts and privatisation programme, and these attacks will be greatly accelerated whoever wins the general election.

For the bankers it is business as usual - raking in huge bonuses and profits while working people are expected to pick up the bill. It is simply incredible that the terms of the "debate" taking place amongst the political elite and the media is about the "un-affordability" of public sector spending and the necessity to slash vital services.

It should be around the greed, corruption and lack of effective regulation in the banking sector, including the need for public ownership and a type of economic planning aimed at improving the lives of the many rather than the profits of the few.

PCS response

The left-led PCS national executive committee (NEC) has responded to these unprecedented attacks by working with and involving members and activists in building effective campaigns. These have resulted in concessions that have gone some way to protect members' interests. Effective campaigning, underpinned by a willingness to take industrial action if necessary, has secured significant settlements on job security and pensions.

Now the government has announced plans to tear up the longstanding agreement on the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS). This is the redundancy and early retirement scheme for the civil service and other public bodies which is based on accrued entitlements.

The current terms were negotiated during Thatcher's government. It is regarded as a fair scheme and it is ironic that a Labour government is attempting to rip up an acceptable agreement underwritten by the Tories and replace it with what will be the worst scheme in the public sector.

The proposals, which were announced by a leak in the Daily Mail, could see members losing tens of thousands of pounds of their present entitlement in the event of voluntary or compulsory redundancy. This is an undisguised attempt to make it cheaper to cut jobs and privatise services.

The Cabinet Office sees the recession as a tremendous opportunity to extend their cuts and privatisation agenda and to clear the path for the anticipated election of a Tory government and the inevitable post general election assault.

The fact that Labour ministers are comfortable with these developments shows they share the same anti-public sector ideology as the Tories. But it is also reflective of their own political weakness that, notwithstanding Gordon Brown's public intervention during negotiations to urge a hard line, they allowed the "mandarins" to make the running.

No choice

The Cabinet Office and the departmental permanent secretaries are behaving in a despicable and dishonourable fashion, showing they just don't give a damn about their staff. Instead of publishing their best offer, they tried to coerce the unions into agreeing unacceptable proposals by threatening to publish "worse" ones if the unions did not agree.

PCS refused to submit to this blackmail and the Cabinet Office published the "worse" terms. In reality, while a minority of staff may have been a bit better off under the so-called "better" proposals neither set of proposals were acceptable.

These tactics reveal a detestation of PCS in government and Cabinet Office circles. The union is seen as the biggest obstacle to their pro-market agenda. If these proposals are driven through, the ill-health retirement element of the scheme will come under attack. This will mean, as was witnessed in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in recent years, staff suffering ill-health being driven out to meet job cut targets, rather than being given the support needed to get them back to work.

While Labour has said the pensions deal agreed in 2005 is secure, it is inevitable that on the basis of the CSCS proposals going through, this will be reviewed. As far as the Tories are concerned, a further assault is almost certainly guaranteed.

This assault is being accompanied by the usual media lies and distortions. Civil servants are portrayed as enjoying feather-bedded agreements while private sector workers are bearing the brunt of the recession.

Real divisions

This effort to drive divisions between private and public sector workers is designed to draw attention away from the real division in society, between the haves and have-nots. But it is also to head off the development of effective solidarity in action amongst working people who all have a vested interest in good public services.

The PCS NEC unanimously rejected these proposals and has launched a major campaign to defeat them. The aim is to get back to the negotiating table in order to secure a just settlement that honours contracts with existing staff and negotiates a fair scheme for new entrants.

In 2005 many said such a settlement was simply unachievable including a few other civil service union "leaders". But hard negotiating, based on principled demands was supported by members. This was underpinned by the determination to take industrial action as a last resort. This secured a settlement without the need to strike at all.

The campaign will involve workplace meetings, legal action, media and parliamentary lobbying and, if required, industrial action. PCS will take the issue to the upcoming Trade Union Congress. We will argue for the widest possible solidarity amongst public and private sector workers to unite in defence of the public sector and for an alternative to policies that put profit before people.

The Times recently claimed that the average civil service wage is 50,000 a year, what are the facts?

These figures paint a very different story to the politically motivated spin, encouraged by Labour ministers and "mandarins", that masquerades as journalism. It is designed to attack public sector workers, many of whom are on poverty pay, working very hard to provide services for the communities in which they live and work.

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In The Socialist 9 September 2009:

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Socialist Party workplace news and analysis

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