The Socialist 10 December 2008 |
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PCS gains steps towards settlement
The civil service and related bodies have been a particular target of the anti-public sector policies of the New Labour government. In 2004 Gordon Brown announced a vicious programme of job cuts, privatisation and attacks on terms and conditions against which the left-led leadership of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) has campaigned and in the process won significant concessions on jobs and pensions to defend members' interests.
John McInally, PCS vice-president
Civil service pay has been under attack for decades. National pay bargaining was broken up under the Tories, a process accelerated and deepened under Labour. There are now over 200 bargaining units with wide disparities in wage rates and other inequalities. Low pay is endemic with some members earning just above the minimum wage.
The government's 2% pay limit has hit PCS members hard. Only in the civil service have progression increases been included in cost of living increases. Pay "settlements" have been imposed in some departments, triggering disputes that have already seen significant levels of action.
Following a 'yes' vote in a national strike ballot around the union's demands, the government conceded talks at the eleventh hour. Despite the growing economic crisis, the build-up to strike action on 10 November told management that PCS members were prepared to fight on pay. The union correctly suspended the national strike when negotiations, the first national talks on pay since the early 1990s, were conceded at the last minute.
Intense negotiations - agreement reached
An agreement has been reached, following intensive negotiations carried out in very difficult conditions. These included a shameful intervention from another civil service union that said PCS shouldn't be rewarded for bad behaviour - campaigning and taking strike action - and that the government should only talk to "moderate" unions.
PCS's national executive committee has supported the national agreement based on its potential to achieve pay improvements for members, including more money in their pockets. However, until there is a fair settlement on the union's demands, PCS remains in dispute.
The agreement must be tested - if it fails to deliver improvements then the mandate for action (that has now lapsed under the anti-union laws) will be renewed. PCS's leadership and membership will react resolutely if concessions that are potential in this agreement, are not translated into settlements in the delegated bargaining areas and at national level.
No 2% cap
a letter to PCS from Sir Gus O'Donnell, cabinet office secretary, set out the agreement. It is a true masterpiece of obscurity and ambiguity that could only have been written by a senior civil servant, long schooled in the art of facing two ways at the same time. This fits with the government's stance of conceding nothing to the unions, especially a campaigning union like PCS. Unhelpful as the letter is, the talks have made real progress in setting out steps toward settlement. Included in the agreement are:
- Flexibility in the Treasury Remit Guidance for 2009/10. This means "efficiency savings" can be recycled into pay.
- A clear statement that there is no longer a 2% pay cap.
- A process of negotiation to agree the terms of the Treasury Remit Guidance.
- Commitment to agree an agenda for talks on future civil service reform.
This process is not without risk. PCS negotiators at departmental level can now directly demand the release of more money for members. The above-mentioned "efficiency savings" can come from the consultants' and contractors' budget, not by trading job cuts and privatisation for more money, that is something PCS sees as unacceptable.
The campaign goes on
The agreement potentially means more money for members. It is also a concrete opportunity to address key national demands on performance related pay, progression, regional and equal pay, the reduction of bargaining units and other issues critical to a return to national pay bargaining. On this basis the agreement was overwhelmingly endorsed at the PCS Left Unity conference.
PCS has worked hard to build public-sector unity on pay, while making it clear it would campaign alone if necessary - and it has. The campaign goes on until there is a fair settlement members will support and endorse.