Thursday 4 January 2007

Spring of Discontent Looms in Public Sector

The PCS ballot of its members on the Chancellor's pay cut and compulsory redundancy plans is a reflection of the pent up anger felt by public sector workers at the way they have been treated by the Government in recent times.

There has been a growing sense of grievance resulting particularly from the actions taken by the Chancellor.

How does any Labour Minister expect public service workers to react in the face of a concerted programme launched by the Chancellor over a two year period to cut their jobs and their pay?

How does any Labour Minister expect the PCS to react as a union when these policies are announced by the Chancellor unilaterally, without consultation and contary to repeated assurances given by Ministers about dialogue and co-operation?

As Chair of the PCS Parliamentary Group I have witnessed at first hand the way in which the Government has treated its own staff with a contempt worthy of any ruthless private sector employer.

On job cuts it should be remembered how the Chancellor announced unilaterally in the middle of his 2005 budget speech a cut of over 100,000 civil service jobs.

On pay it should also be recalled how the Chancellor announced in a speech to the City of London that public sector workers are to have a pay cut forced upon them over the next two years.

On privatisation it should be appreciated that as a result of a Treasury driven obsession with privatisation, more public service jobs have now been privatised under New Labour in 10 years than in the 18 years of Tory Government.

The result is not only an increasingly demoralised and angry workforce but also services grinding to a halt in some areas of government. Is it any wonder that when 30,000 jobs are cut in the Department of Work and Pensions there is an 30% increase in the number of pensioners failing to take up the benefits they are entitled to? The one million unopened pieces of post at Inland Revenue and the 2 million unanswered telephone inquiries in government call centres tell a story about the impact of job cuts.

In many departments low pay is endemic and the failure of Government to implement its promised pay coherence policy across the civil service has meant staff doing the same job working on widely differing pay rates. To rub salt in the wound of this grievance, the Government is now attempting in some departments to introduce local pay awards which would allow it to pay staff less in areas where pay rates are lower in the local economy.

The reason compulsory redundancies have become an issue is not because public service workers are refusing to co-operate with changes to the way services are delivered. Far from it, public sector workers have shown a real willingness to change and adapt and indeed enthusiasm for improving the way their services respond to the needs of our community. What is angering our public servants is that it has been demonstrated compulsory redundancies are avoidable with proper consultation and the effective use of redeployment within the civil service and yet the Government seems hell bent on forcing through compulsory redundancies almost as a matter of principle.

Undoubtedly the Government will seek to isolate the PCS and try and portray this dispute as somehow "political." Ministers are already being rolled out into the media to denounce the ballot.
However it is clear that the Government has significantly underestimated the strength of feeling amongst public sector workers and is in danger of drifting into a Spring of discontent.

I urge all trade unionists, especially in the public sector , to give their backing to the PCS and to press Labour MPs to assist in this campaign against cuts in jobs and pay.

The TUC' s lobby of Parliament on 23rd January provides an ideal opportunity to get this message across the MPs and Government Ministers.

I will be using every chance I get to urge the Government to pull back from this prospect of such a damaging dispute but if it comes to industrial action I will be joining PCS picket lines to demonstrate solidarity.

The Government is drifting into a Spring of discontent.