The Socialist 4 May 2016 |
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Civil service: fighting the pay freeze
PCS members in action, photo Paul Mattsson (Click to enlarge)
Katrine Williams, PCS DWP group vice president
The backdrop of the current pay deal in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is a public sector pay freeze that has lasted years depressing members' living standards.
We operate in a very hostile industrial environment, in large part because of the failure of other union leaderships and the TUC itself to fight back against cuts, privatisation and pay freezes. The Tories have launched vicious attacks on PCS for fighting back against austerity and DWP workers have been at the forefront. This resulted in the withdrawal of the check-off facility and an attempt to bankrupt and smash the union.
The PCS, under a left leadership, fought off this attack and has emerged stronger and more determined than ever.
PCS has been campaigning against austerity for many years including the public sector pay freeze. We have argued that the best way to defeat the pay freeze is to build joint coordinated action across the public sector but despite this being official TUC policy, they and other key unions have failed to build this action. While continuing to press this demand, PCS is campaigning to win settlements that will improve our members' wages wherever possible.
In the PCS DWP group this means campaigning, including a letter writing initiative to MPs which resulted in a debate in Parliament exposing the disgrace of low pay in the department (40% of staff receive benefits to top up their wages) and led to negotiations with management.
PCS has put DWP management under considerable pressure to resolve low pay and the pay differentials between DWP and other government departments.
DWP got permission from the Treasury for pay flexibility to breach the 1% pay cap that would mean 'substantial' increases to 60% of the lowest paid DWP staff but linked to contractual changes which would allow an increase in areas which open to the public in the evening and Saturday.
There is no doubt management aim to bring in these changes anyway. PCS does not accept these changes should be linked to the issue of pay however.
PCS group negotiators have been involved in lengthy talks to discuss pay and management's plans for opening hours which has resulted in an offer which our members will have the final vote on whether to accept in June.
The PCS DWP group leadership discussed the full offer at length and on balance took the decision to recommend the offer to members because of the safeguards that have been negotiated in terms of contractual changes and the large amounts of money available for the lowest paid at each grade in scope, whose pay has been held down for many years.
It is clear that the offer means different things to different people and has the potential to divide our members. In such difficult circumstances any union is duty bound to gain as much as it can to improve living standards for its most poorly paid members and protect as much as it can in terms of changes to conditions and build the campaign to win further concessions.
The pay part of the offer means that all members in the first four grades in the DWP will be on or make significant progress towards a single spot rate of pay by 2019 - fulfilling a longstanding PCS demand for the rate for the job for each grade. This addresses the significant problems that have existed over pay progression where the majority of our members have not progressed through the pay scales for years since the Labour government introduced pay restraint. The spot rates are set at a level with other government departments which addresses the issue of lower pay in the DWP where members in different government departments doing similar jobs can have a difference in pay of thousands of pounds.
Over half of our members would receive a pay rise of 10 -21.6% over the next four years. We recognise that we were unable to negotiate a similar pay rise for those members at the maximum of their pay scale, but all members receive more than 1% each year in this offer.
There will be full consultation before any changes to opening hours to the public where PCS will thoroughly go through the rationale for change and what genuine demand there is from the public and staffing levels required.
We recognise that while the offer represents some positive elements such as the increase in pay to the rate for the job for our members, it is clear that not everyone gets a lot more than 1% and that the contractual changes would worry many. The recommendation to accept was taken after much discussion but we felt that the safeguards that have been negotiated would be best secured in a collective agreement rather than allow management to simply impose 'guidelines' with no legal status.
Our assessment is that the levels of action required to prevent the changes to working hours are unlikely to be voted for by the significant number of members in line for an increase of over 20% over the four years at the time of a 1% pay cap, and that if we can bank the pay increases and contractualise them, that puts us in the best position to fight the detriment, using the strength gained from having a collective agreement to hold management to account over issues that the whole membership can unite over.
This would strengthen the union's ability to defend members and the pay increases would become a contractual right. We are clear that any attempts by management to breach the collective agreement would result in a strong, united response from PCS and our members in DWP.
Vote for PCS Left Unity candidates in the PCS DWP elections
- President - Heathcote Fran
- Vice Presidents - Cavanagh Martin, Rochester Annette, Wilkinson Ian, Williams Katrine
- Assistant Secretaries - Bartholomew Ian, Burke Dave, Cuthbert Chris, Hall Sam, Page Mark, Semple Dave, Swainston Steve
- Organiser - McDonough Marie
- Treasurer - Chilwan Bash
- Editor - Church Tony
- Group Executive Committee - Evans Louise, Godrich Janice, Grant Angela, Hatwood Glen, Heemskerk Rachel, Lothian Harminder, McCafferty Kevin, McInally John, Nairn Brian, Owens Dave, Pope Ian, Revell Carol, Ruddick Sian, Spencer Sarah, Watkins Carrie-Anne, Watts Rachael, West Steve
- Ballot papers will be issued from Thursday 28 April.
- Ballot papers must be returned to the Independent Scrutineer by 12 noon on 18 May