PCS Pay campaign: For a better claim and a disaggregated ballot

The December meeting of the National Executive Committee agreed a 2019 pay claim and campaign plan which members will be consulted on in January before the NEC formally “push the button” on a fresh ballot in February.

In that consultation, PCS Independent Left are urging members to make their thoughts known regarding our pay claim and the need for a disaggregated ballot.

 

Pay claim

When the NEC met, PCS Independent Left member Phil Dickens proposed the following claim:

  • A living wage of £10/hour (£11.55 in London) for AAs
  • Pay at all other grades to be uplifted in proportion to this
  • A spot rate for AO and EO grades based upon the pay max
  • Contractual pay progression where there aren’t spot rates
  • Contractor and outsourced pay in line with civil service pay

We have previously made the argument that 5% (or £1,200) goes nowhere near addressing the pay injustice PCS members have suffered. Not only that, although the living wage and common pay rates across the civil service both appear in the pay claim, there has been little or no emphasis on them and the fact that they don’t underpin the claim makes the likelihood of them being addressed minimal.

What this claim does, as opposed to an arbitrary percentage, is to make common rates and a living wage the central points on which the claim hinges. At a stroke, the claim eradicates the worst injustices of the current pay system: that there are civil servants who don’t make enough money to live, and that civil servants doing equivalent jobs at the same grade can have wildly different rates of pay. If these things remain apart from the claim, the government could arguably agree to the percentage PCS asked for without giving a living wage to all or equal pay for equal work.

This claim was rejected by Mark Serwotka and the rest of the NEC, on the basis of it being “too complex” and the points about spot rates and progression pay being mere “details for negotiations.” This despite the lack of contractual pay progression being as big any issue for many members as the lack of a substantive pay rise in itself.

Disaggregated ballot

The other amendment put forward by Phil was that the ballot should be disaggregated, but with a clear central steer on the demands. As we have argued previously, this doesn’t divide or erode the national nature of the pay claim but instead serves as a backstop against further failures to meet the 50% turnout threshold.

The argument against this approach essentially turned on the DWP and HMRC being able to carry the whole civil service vote if they got over 50%. It was claimed that a disaggregated ballot would leave weaker groups exposed, and that if any group got over 50% they could still subsequently run a ballot on their own.

The problem with this line of thinking is that any group unable to deliver a 50% turnout, given the efforts put in place in both the 2017 consultative and 2018 statutory ballots, would be less likely to deliver the turnout in any subsequent action and so would leave themselves exposed. There is a serious strategic and organisational deficit in replying on the biggest sections of the union to drag the rest over the line. Moreover, as we saw with the MoJ pay offer that followed the ballot, an aggregated ballot doesn’t hide organisational weakness from the employer – but even from such a weak position, the reps in that group pulled off a heroic effort to see off the attack. In a disaggregated ballot, any group which didn’t make it past the line could similarly regroup, but instead of having to do so alone they would have the cover of an ongoing campaign with those groups that shattered the threshold at the vanguard.

Unanswered questions

A number of questions that were put to the General Secretary over the course of the last three NEC meetings remain unanswered.

The NEC was told that the Policy and Resources Committee would consider recommendations on whether the union could second experienced activists to support the organising required in the pay campaign, how we could co-opt the skills and communications utilised to great effect by branches for use on a wider scale, and how the union could ensure that branches had timely access to local printing for bespoke leaflets and materials. If these questions were considered, that has not been reported back. More likely, addressing these questions was deemed secondary to engaging in a destructive factional war most members have little knowledge of and less interest in.

The best organised branches are not only able but eager to produce their own materials to promote PCS activity. This is made harder by limited funds and a number of bureaucratic hurdles. Bootle Taxes Branch was able to provide templates for leaflets of various sizes and secure a guarantee that the Revenue & Customs Group would reimburse reasonable printing costs for R&C branches. They shouldn’t have had to – this should be what the national union is there to do for us.

Next steps

The union has moved an incredible distance in the past few years.

That we are now talking about a national pay campaign with potential selective action paid for by a Fighting Fund would have been unthinkable as recently as 2013. The emphasis on fundamental, root-and-branch organising is something we have been lacking for a long time, even if there still remains resistance to and scepticism of it from certain quarters. Even something as simple as the intent to use a ballot result as leverage in talks is a significant shift from what Mark Serwotka has candidly referred to as an era of protest strikes with no serious plan to win.

The movement we have seen, and every increase in our chances of winning that comes with it, has been fought for against a recalcitrant leadership. This is not their natural territory, and even as the restrictions of the Trade Union Act make it necessary, you can see their nervousness.

Decisions on how the campaign goes forward, even the most basic ones, have been kicked down the road from July to December. The emergency NEC in November put £1 million from the £3 million court victory over the DWP into the Fighting Fund (and baulked at the Independent Left suggestion to make it £2 million). But the decisions it was supposed to make on the campaign were deferred to December, where rows centred upon the split within Left Unity dominated a four-hour debate.

Nonetheless, finally, we have gotten somewhere. January’s consultation (finally) marks the beginning of the lead in to the ballot, and members still have the chance to shape what comes next. We believe the changes needed are a disaggregated ballot and a more substantive pay claim underpinned by a £10 and hour living wage.

If you agree, then now is the time to make your voice heard.

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