Pay remit raises automation threat

Automation Software Technology Process System Business concept

The Cabinet Office has published its pay remit for the civil service. As expected, civil service pay is being held below inflation, with departments allowed to award between 1.5 and 2.5%. This is yet again a kick in the teeth for low paid PCS members.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the failure of this government to offer anything close to an acceptable pay award after a decade of austerity. Though, with a two year pay freeze in the public sector and significant tax rises for the lowest paid working class people forming part of their leaked post-COVID recovery plans, we also shouldn’t be surprised if they try to frame this as an act of generosity ahead of the ‘necessary’ pain to come.

What is key in this year’s pay remit, however, is this:

“Departments paying an average award of more than 2% and up to 2.5% must demonstrate tangible outcomes based plans, with milestones, for progress against delivery of key long term priorities such as workforce transformation and improvements, including through automation, location strategy and addressing pay anomalies.”

What this translates to is a pay award at the higher end of the remit range must be paid for in jobs.

We have already seen that the government wants to use pay restraint as the stick to force changes to terms and conditions on workers. Departments such as HMRC continue to enthusiastically promise this at every turn. We also know that job cuts are on the horizon with the location strategies in HMRC, DWP and Ministry of Justice in particular.

However, alongside home working, the other big boom in the civil service has been automation. The employer will come out of the pandemic with a far clearer picture of what work can be done without us, and what work can be done with less of us.

The supposed gratitude for key workers through this crisis will not mitigate the attacks to come. However, we can hope that the naked contradiction between the spectacle of applause and veneration and the clear contempt when it comes to pay policy will radicalise more workers and make them realise that there are sides – and that the government and the employer are not on theirs.

If you are a civil servant and not a member of PCS, you should join today. Don’t’ stop there – organise your workmate and be ready for a fight. The success of this attack is wholly dependent on how the workforce responds.

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