CIVIL SERVICE: PCS has, for all practical purposes, announced the end of its national pay campaign. In a union circular, general secretary Mark Serwotka and union president Janice Godrich claim that the union has won major concessions.
In fact the so-called deal is not a deal at all. It does not materially change the circumstances on the ground. It does not revisit the below-inflation pay awards of 2007. It does not reduce the number of different bargaining units into which the civil service is divided for pay negotiations (currently about 200).
The announced concession is that the Government has said that “efficiency savings” in different departments can be adduced in bargaining as reasons to raise the pay increase above the Government's two per cent norm. But:
• This will be applicable only in certain circumstances, not as a norm.
• The only “efficiency savings” happening in the civil service are through job cuts. It is not like manufacturing industry, where you might have savings through new technology being introduced.
• Under present guidelines, there is already provision to negotiate for management in a particular department to present a “business case” to the Treasury for extra funding.
• In fact every department has got an increase of over 2% in its pay budget anyway.
• If there are any positive outcomes from the concession, they will be gained only bargaining unit by bargaining unit. Everything is put back into unit-by-unit bargaining. There is no further national pay campaign.
The next big pay settlement dates are the Department of Work and Pensions in July, and HMRC in August. Ironically, there is now a moratorium on front-line job cuts in the DWP, because of rising unemployment, so DWP workers won't be able to claim any “efficiency savings”.
We won't know whether there is any positive outcome from the Government's claimed concession until October or November 2009, when bargaining on those big department pay settlements has run its course. And then if we discover that the claimed concession hasn't given us anything much - as I think we will - what do we do?
The claim that the Government has made an important concession is in fact just a way of getting out of the dispute.
It would be a different matter if the PCS leadership had given an honest accounting. They could say that PCS is on its own now that the NUT teachers' union has decided not to strike on pay; that the turnout and the "yes" majority in the PCS's own ballot over strike action in the national pay campaign were poor; that report-backs from union activists are pessimistic; and therefore that action now cannot win.
We could discuss that. It would be a reasonable case. But in fact the union leadership is claiming a win. Instead of honest accounting, we get dishonest Enron-type spin.
PUBLIC SECTOR PENSIONS: Following on from the Lib Dems Tory leader David Cameron has gone on the offensive over public sector pensions. Describing the current differentials between the public and private sector as "apartheid in pensions" he wants to see an end to existing schemes.
Instead he wants to see the public sector transferring to defined contributions schemes, meaning that the final pay-off is tied to the stock market, not your final salary as in existing schemes. It won't be long until New Labour and Alastair Darling pick up on the issue as they seek ways to reduce the massive rates of public debt caused by their bail out of the banking system.
When the government last “reviewed” public sector pensions the unions failed to maintain a meaningful campaign in opposition despite a very well supported one day strike. This has already meant public sector workers paying more in contributions for less money on retirement, and employer contributions reduced. In fact most of the final settlements included a opt-out for the employers to cut their contributions further in the future.
With a further attack so well signalled .there is no excuse for the unions not to start preparing for a campaign now. It would have to not just defend the current arrangements but include a campaign for the restoration of defined benfit schemes in the private sector and address the current low rates of state pensions and system of pension credits. One way or another it seems that all the main parties are lined up to make workers and pensioners pay for the capitalist crisis.
SUSSEX UNIVERSITY TECHNICIANS: Technicians at Sussex University have held four days of strike action in opposition to attempts by the university management to close their final salary pension scheme for new workers, replacing it with a "defined contribution" scheme more vulnerable to market fluctuations.
The University Council predictably rubber-stamped the changes at the end of November, ignoring the three thousand signatures from staff and students which the workers' campaign has collected, and refusing to meet representatives of their Unite branch.
The technicians' battle continues. It has won full support from both the student union and the Sussex Not for Sale campaign (Sussex ENS). As the ENS newsletter put it:
"It speaks volumes about the priorities of the university that they are trying to make savings by attacking the conditions of the lowest paid members of staff.
"Staff have stood up for students in the past over tuition fees. Now it is the time to return the favour. And not only is it right that students support the striking staff, it is in our interests. After all, students are the workers of tomorrow...
"It is possible that management will try to break the strike by dividing staff against students, blaming the striking workers for the disruption of our education. In such a circumstances we must be absolutely clear that we place responsibility for the disruption entirely at the feet of management."
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