The Socialist 13 December 2007 |
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DWP strike: Fighting the pay cuts
Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) management have imposed a three-year pay 'deal' that means that 90% of Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) members will have a below-inflation pay rise. Members voted by 16,096 to 9,997 to strike, which was called for 6-7 December. As these reports show, the strike was well-supported across the country and there were many enthusiastic picket lines, in spite of lashing rain and high winds.
Exeter DWP workers were out in force on both days with at least 75% of workers from the Job Centre Plus office on strike. It was the first time the finance office had come out alongside the other PCS members.
Deb Winship, chair of Devon PCS, said that the deal: "Does nothing to solve the problem of low pay in the DWP and in many cases makes it worse. The fact that some people will only be 25p above the minimum wage adds to child poverty."
Bangor Socialist Party members visited strikers at the Job Centre Plus call centre on Parc Menai. PCS rep Steven Jones reported that the majority of the workforce had stayed out and several new union members had joined.
The rep at Cityside national insurance office, London said: "It's been a marvellous turnout. We quite enjoy it out in the wind and rain, it's not going to stop our members struggling against pay cuts. We had a 75% shutdown on Thursday and around 90% on Friday.
"At this office besides pay, people are on strike because of the draconian management style. People are pressured to work beyond their contracted hours because the London region isn't properly resourced with staff, to deal with the high demand for National Insurance numbers. We're just shoring up the gap.
"We're one of the five NINO centres in London that deal with around 50% of the new applications for national insurance numbers nationally. Customers have to wait up to 30 days, sometimes more to get an appointment just for an interview here."
On the issue of the three-year settlement, Brian Morrison, on the Newcastle Job Centre picket line commented: "What happens if inflation goes sky high? Already petrol prices are going through the roof. Gas and electric prices are increasing.
"Staff morale is at an all-time low. They want three times the work with three times less staff. From the top to the bottom the pressure is on in terms of cuts, and these cuts mean mistakes are being made. Look at what happened with the discs. Information should have been filtered out but wasn't because of cost cutting.
"One person joined the PCS today and didn't pass the picket line, and the postal worker refused to cross the line."
Tony Jarvis, PCS regional secretary said: "Staff are expected to accept what works out at about 3% over a three-year period. Yet Leigh Lewis, the permanent secretary, has been given a £14,000 pay rise! Mr Lewis should be supporting his staff in their fight for a fair pay deal"
Roger Langley, branch organiser, Swansea pension centre, spoke to Alec Thraves: "The mood is actually better than we thought. We've had previous strikes in the DWP but the imposition of this pay deal has incensed the workers. When people have seen how little they are getting from five months back pay it has just fuelled their anger and made them come out and fight.
"There are more out than before and of the hundreds of union members, only eight have crossed the picket line.
"We mean business this time and we will be stepping up the action and withdrawing goodwill.
"PCS is recruiting more members because of the dispute and the branch is really looking healthy. We recently had vacancies for three people on our branch executive and received ten nominations which is extremely encouraging".
Chris Willars, branch chair, Leicester DWP: "Leigh Lewis the permanent secretary says he knows where we are coming from. He ought to try living on the wage of a low-paid civil servant receiving tax credit because the employer doesn't pay him enough to survive.
"The DWP strike in Leicester has been very solid and according to reports I've had its been like that across the East Midlands."
An overtime ban will run until 21 December.
"I might feel the same..."
PCS members were so angry that they were having a below-inflation pay 'deal' foisted on them that they entered enthusiastically into the strike.
John McInally, DWP group executive, personal capacity
Members who wrote to Leigh Lewis, the DWP permanent secretary to complain about their low pay and poor pay offer, received the amazing reply: "I recognise how strongly you feel about this and why you feel let down. I think, in your shoes, I might feel the same."
At the same time a Treasury committee report was published showing the scandal of low pay in the public sector. The report says that half of all poor children live in working households and the biggest employer of low-paid workers is the public sector.
The cuts and closures have meant DWP staff having to work harder to try to deliver any kind of service. So it's no wonder we had the best-ever support for the strike in most areas.
Cheering the strike
Members in offices across Wales cheered when reps confirmed that the strike was on, given the anger over a whole range of issues.
Katrine Williams PCS DWP Wales Secretary, personal capacity
The pay offer being imposed is the last straw. Members who were amongst the lucky ones to actually get into the computer system to see their pay slip online were angry at how little they received in the payment for five months arrears and the performance bonus.
Many members saw their pitiful pay rise at the same time as having staff awareness sessions about the new incentive allowance to help the sick and disabled get back into work of £40 per week.
Many of our sick and disabled members could end up claiming this allowance if sacked over "inefficiency" and they could be better off!
Overworked and underpaid
"The solid turnout for yet a further strike against the government's policy of wage cuts reflects the deep-seated anger and resentment of the DWP workforce.
Tony Mulhearn, Liverpool
Overworked and underpaid is a term that could have been fashioned for these workers. Daily they are showered by well-paid senior top civil servants with messages of congratulations for their efforts in implementing the most fundamental changes in pensions and pension credit delivery, yet are rewarded in reality with an insulting imposed pay award - or cuts award, which chief civil servant Leigh Lewis himself confessed he would find disappointing.
Architect of this policy, Gordon Brown and the well-heeled cabal around him are pandering to the CBI by showing how tough they are with low-paid workers whilst stuffing gold into the pockets of consultants and privateers. It is only a matter of time until the resentment felt by millions of workers will be translated into action to participate in the campaign to create a new party of the workers to combat the party of the millionaires."