By a PCS Socialist Caucus member
There was solid support for the strike action of 21 October by members of the PCS (Public and Commercial Services trade union) employed by DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
The 24-hour strike was in support of a DEFRA-wide pay claim to end different rates of pay between DEFRA “core department” employees and employees in DEFRA agencies, such as the RPA (Rural Payments Agency) and the CEFAS (covering water and fisheries).
In recent years substantial differences in pay-rates have built up between the DEFRA “core department” and the DEFRA agencies, and also between the agencies themselves.
The starting salary for an administrative officer in the CEFAS, for example, is £11,474, compared with £15,221 in the RPA. And the starting salary for an executive officer in the CEFAS is £15,164, compared with £20,451 in DEFRA itself.
On average, an agency employee is paid £2,010 a year less than his/her counterpart in the DEFRA “core department” – for doing exactly the same work. And by 2008 the majority of DEFRA staff are due to have been transferred out from the “core” to DEFRA agencies.
The PCS pay claim covered all DEFRA staff, both “core” and agency, and included the demand for harmonised rates of pay throughout DEFRA. The pay claim therefore benefited both agency staff (pay rise, plus eradication of differential rates of pay) and “core staff” (pay rise, plus protection from lower rates of pay in the event of transfer to an agency).
The pay claim also has a wider significance. It is part of the PCS’s strategy as a national union to restore civil-service-wide national pay bargaining, in place of the fractured pay-bargaining which currently takes place for different departments, or even for different sections within the same department.
At the time of going to press PCS representatives in DEFRA are deciding on the next stage of the campaign. Given its significance not just for PCS members in DEFRA but for the PCS national strategy as a whole, this is a dispute which must be won.