HP dispute: employer ups the ante

The transnational corporation Hewlett Packard has upped the ante in the current dispute with PCS over pay and jobs and it is becoming increasingly clear that HP is set not only on breaking PCS but on clearing out all staff on union negotiated pay and conditions.

On Friday 17th May, management suspended the PCS HP North West Branch Secretary, John Pearson. I was charged with breach of confidentiality after sending out to Branch members a spreadsheet which had been officially received from the company by the union, containing a description of those employees whom it is proposed to make redundant effective 31st July 2013, as required by section 188 of the Trade Union & Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

There are to be 584 redundancies, which emanate from a global initiative by HP termed ‘Make It Better’. This is a top down dictated headcount reduction exercise, totalling 30,000 globally, but which is heavily weighted against US and European theatres of operation. UK government contracts are massively hit. Development and major maintenance work on government IT systems are, in accordance with industry practice, currently conducted on a ‘release’ basis. After a new release for the particular system goes live, development and testing staff have normally rolled off onto the next release in the pipeline. HP are seeking to break that practice. The redundancy proposals would see the sacking of the entire development staff complement on the following major systems for the DWP, as currenbt releases complete within the period to 31/07/13 : Job Seekers Allowance Payments, Personal Independence Payments, Common Payments System (the payments ‘back end’) and Audit Trail Analysis System.

When new work comes through the pipeline on these systems, HP would then recruit new staff, either offshore or at its two designated ‘Strategic Delivery Hubs’ which are at Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Erskine, Renfrewshire. Reliable sources have indicated that wage rates for the replacement, non-union workforce, would be 20% less than current rates.

The entire development, testing and live systems support staff complement at HP’s Sheffield office, who support the Jobcentre Plus service point systems, such as LMS are to be sacked, starting in the current quarter, as are staff at the same location who support MoJ IT systems. The Sheffield cuts total 124 jobs. Here the company has been explicit in its intentions. The work is to be moved to Erskine. No relocation payments are to be offered and any staff who relocate under their own steam will have to accept the local T&Cs. In 2010-11, HP was awarded the biggest Regional Selective Assistance grant made that year by Scottish Enterprise, £7 million, of which £3.5 million has already been paid over. Scottish Enterprises Summary report for the year indicates that HP had pledged to create 720 “new” jobs.

HP undoubtedly saw its opportunity to move against the union’s organisation by suspending Pearson when, the day previously, the PCS HP Group Executive Committee had been compelled to suspend a second one day strike scheduled for 17th May 2013 and call off work to rule action after a collapse of the action in the North East, where a vociferous rebel group of members had forced the abandonment of a workplace union meeting as part of its campaign for a derisory and highly divisive offer from HP to be put to a ballot. The branch leadership had, rather unwisely in my view, substituting the test of member opinion at the abandoned meeting by organising an email ballot using HP’s email system. This resulted in a 190 – 29 vote in the 600 strong branch, expressing non-support for the 17th May strike. Reports had also been received that non-striking PCS members together with non-members, at key North East sites at Washington and Newcastle, would actively accept transfer of work from the North Western sites where support for the action was solid and growing (a nem con vote had been won at meetings on all major North West sites (with dial in from the minor sites) for a further 2 days of strike action on 28/29 May).

The company’s offer will now be put to ballot and the GEC has resolved to campaign for its rejection. This is certainly achievable – by a very large majority – if an effective and energetic campaign is conducted, with assistance being rendered to the weak branch covering Newcastle, Washington and Sheffield. Such an outcome would supply the basis for renewed and united action against the massive assault on the union, union members and all employees of HP.

The HP Group AGM tomorrow morning is going to be a very important meeting.

For fuller details see : http://www.pcs-hpnw.org.uk/

In solidarity,
John

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