civil service pay dispute – defeat or victory?

by Steve Ryan, Wrexham PCS

Public and Commercial Services union members were surprised at the sudden calling off of the planned strike on 10th November. The strike was pulled at the very last minute on the Friday before the 10th, leaving activists frantically trying to contact members. The National Executive Committee claimed the cancellation was due to a “major breakthrough” in the dispute.

Surprise turned to bafflement and in many areas anger when the “breakthrough” turned out to be a letter from O’Donnell – head of the civil service – rather than the hard cash members were expecting!

The NEC claim the letter is significant in that it confirms there is no 2% cap in pay negotiations and allows for efficiency savings to be “recycled” into pay. No other union has been given this concession. NEC were also adamant that the campaign continues , that there will be further talks and that action will not be ruled out if the letter proves to be a con.

The early signs are not good. A close examination of the letter shows that the 2% will only NOT apply in very special circumstances. No claim settled or imposed for 2008 is to be reopened. It also appear to bind the PCS to tacit acceptance of the efficiencies. It is unclear where the efficiencies to be released for pay will come from. NEC claim that reducing use of consultants would go some way towards this but as pay negotiations are still delegated many departments will be offering savings made from job losses and office closures-totally unacceptable for any union let alone a “left” union like PCS.

The first big test was in HMRC, where there is an unsettled dispute. Straight away the letter failed as pay offer for 2008 was quietly imposed, without any protest from the Group executive. Again there are promises of open talks for 2009/10 . Members however cannot pay the bills on promises!

Indeed the HMRC experience indicates that the campaign may be a defeat. Members expected action or a significant pay increase – in the event they have neither. This has led to further anger with the union.

The key will be whether  the dispute is allowed to wither away. Activists must now pressure the NEC to ensure that

> There are no further below inflation settlements -flat rate rises for those who lose by % rises

> That all departments open the books to members to identify the savings

> No savings from job losses to be used for pay -instead mount a national campaign against job losses and actualisation

> End performance related pay

> Progressions to rate for the job to be paid separately as elsewhere in the public sector

These demands would need to be backed up by coordinated and innovative industrial action beyond the one day strikes – members’ confidence will also need to be rebuilt.

Politically there also needs to be an open and frank debate about where the allegedly most left wing union in the TUC is heading. The preparatory ground for a Rank and File is already there.