Independent Left welcomes everyone to 2016 Conference. The main issue facing this Conference and indeed the most crucial issue virtually all members have faced their whole DWP working lives is the Employee Deal, dubbed by some members as the Employer’s Deal given that they seem to be getting quite a lot in return for them giving us not that much.
Independent Left believes that the GEC majority were wrong to recommend this offer to members. We believe the Conference should overturn this decision. We ask that you support motions that call for the GEC to recommend rejection.
It would be wrong not to acknowledge that some members will do financially well out of this deal. It would also be wrong not to acknowledge that for members on or near their max the money is not enough in terms of what you will be giving up. The published Equality Impact Assessment states that 70% of all DWP staff are either on their max or on pay rates of 70% or more of the max for their payband. Over half of AAs are on the max. Over 30% of AOs are on their max and nearly 40% of EOs are on their max. In many branches these people are the backbone of the Union and can always be found at Union meetings and on picket lines.
Across the country the angry reaction of members has been unprecedented. Given that the GEC are recommending this offer much of that anger has been focused at PCS with many members genuinely confused as to why the Union would recommend this.
Members will be asked to work one in four Saturdays and up to 6:30 pm one evening a week from October next year in return for the pay increases. Management have indicated that the late evenings will be extended to 8:00 pm at some stage. The GEC claim that 93% of members will be moved to the spot rate by July 2019. This makes two huge assumptions. Firstly this assumes no-one will opt out. Secondly it assumes no-one in DWP over the next four years will be given a ‘Must Improve’ and be put on formal procedures. We are told that the cost of this offer is about £46 million in the first year with similar amounts in the following years. Obviously the more people that opt out the lower the cost to DWP. It should also be noted that last year DWP spent over £27 million on overtime, year to date March 2016. We suspect that overtime costs will reduce if members have to come in on a Saturday and work late evenings at plain time. How much extra money is the DWP spending on this offer or are they getting something for nothing?
We are also told that the spot rate is above the current max in HMRC. Yes it is but it takes you four years to get there! We are not comparing like with like. Our spot rates need to be compared with what the HMRC maxes are going to be in four years time if there is to be an honest comparison.
Probably the most pernicious aspect of the deal is how those with alternative working patterns are being treated. We all know that the vast majority of these members work these patterns because of caring commitments or because of disabilities or other health issues. These members will have to make a leap in the dark when choosing to opt in or out. They are being asked to make a decision without knowing whether DWP will honour their current working arrangements.
Safeguards! I hear you cry. What exactly are these safeguards? To quote the proposed Collective Agreement: “In managing working patterns, managers will be fully aware of and comply with the requirements of the Equality Act 2010 in respect of employees with protected characteristics…” When you boil that down what this says is: “We will obey the law”. Thanks. Don’t you have to do that already? So the safeguard negotiated by the GEC is that the employer will behave lawfully. Yes but there will be an independent panel where members can challenge perverse decisions. What you mean like raising a grievance? Again, thanks, but we can do that already. So the safeguards amount to rights that we have already. PCS will be represented on the panel but we suspect we won’t have the casting vote.
A proper safeguard would be to say to members with alternative working patterns, “We will contractually honour your working arrangements for the next four years.”
Members working in the SLPZ areas would have been impressed with the Union circular telling them they are only 1.6% of DWP staff and anyway they are getting over 1% if they agree to work Saturday’s and evenings. Yes, 0.1% over the 1% pay cap. And anyway you’ve been getting more than other members for years. Stop moaning. And if you don’t like it you can opt out.
Then of course there is the thorny issue of how much more members will be earning over the, as we prefer to call it, National Minimum Wage. We note that the all members circular uses the Tory terminology, the National Living Wage. The Tories are deliberately calling the minimum wage the living wage to undermine the actual Living Wage which is set by the Living Wage Foundation. This rate is set higher than the minimum wage and is calculated according to the basic living cost in the UK. Currently it is £9.50 ph in London and £8.25 outside. It is a sick joke that you would be paid more for working in Lidl’s in London than you would as an AO processing claims in Newcastle. We are not denigrating Lidl workers. They deserve that and more. But so do we.
So what is actually going on here? We think the GEC majority are desperate for a deal. Left Unity, not just in DWP, are desperate to say, ‘there you are, that’s what the Union delivers for you.’ That desperation is blinding them. They don’t have the confidence in the members to win a better deal. We do. And why should they have confidence in the members when the members lost confidence in their industrial action strategy years ago. Let us be clear. We will not win concessions by going on a one day strike and then doing nothing.
Equally, the real strength the union has in this situation is our collective bargaining agreement; they can’t change our contracts without a majority vote of our members. It is our view that the employer needs this change a hell-of-a-lot more than they need the tiny amount of money they are increasing the pay-pot. They know they can’t fulfil their future operating model by asking individuals to opt-in.
It has been said, and we would be stupid not to consider this, that only 61% of staff are in the Union and 22% of staff are on the new contracts anyway. What we have here is chickens coming home to roost. This situation is a consequence of our de facto position of accepting reserved rights deals. When you do this you are storing up problems for the future.
It’s going to be a huge task to re-build the confidence of members and Union density in DWP but it can be done. The election of three Independent Left comrades to the GEC is a very small, but highly significant step in that direction. You can and should be part of that re-building.
Leaflet version here.