Preparing to fight the pay freeze (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 24 November, 2020 - 3:42 Author: John Moloney
PCS protest

Our National Executive Committee (NEC) meets on 10 December, and will decide our strategy. I am sure industrial action will be considered. If it is, no doubt the union will approach other public sector unions and trying to build towards coordinated action, but we of course have to be prepared to go on our own if necessary.

If the NEC say yes, then we could build towards action in the new year. There’s a specific process inside the civil service called the “pay remit”, where the Treasury issues guidance about how much money is available. That usually takes place in April, so that could be the trigger point for industrial action, either on our own or in combination with other unions.

If the NEC votes for a dispute and an industrial action ballot over pay, campaigning on that needs to start immediately. The target should be to speak to every single member of the union — in the workplace for those working in offices, and using phone-banking and other forms of communication to reach workers working from home — about the campaign, convincing them that it’s worth fighting back, and ensuring they vote in the ballot. We’ve missed thresholds in previous national ballots, we can’t afford to have that happen again.

Discussion also needs to take place about what kind of action we build for. We need a comprehensive campaign involving national strikes, rolling and selective strikes, and other forms of industrial action such as work-to-rules, all designed to maximise the impact on the employer. Organising effective industrial action in a context where the majority of members are working from home will require some creative thinking. Those discussions need to happen in advance, well before any ballot takes place, so members have ownership over the strategy and feel like they’re voting for something they’ve had a say in drawing up and which they’re confident will be effective.

Local struggles

There are local struggles developing in a number of departments. In the Ministry of Justice, a survey is being sent to members working in courts about a possible industrial action ballot over safety issues will start. Some of our Driving Examiner members are also likely to ballot to resist being pushed back into conducting tests when the lockdown in England ends.

In the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial strategy, our branch will be balloting members working for outsourced contractors such as ISS and Aramark. Outsourced workers are still being compelled to come into work, despite the fact the office building is basically empty.

The directly-employed workers the outsourced workers “serve”, as security guards, mailroom staff, cleaners, and so on, are overwhelmingly working from home, but outsourced workers are still having to come to work. That’s clearly discriminatory, and in an essentially racialised way, as the outsourced workers are predominantly from BAME and migrant backgrounds. We want those workers put on special paid leave, safe away from the workplace.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.

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