On Monday 1 February, HMRC published its Pay and Contract Reform offer to staff. The union’s HMRC Group Executive Committee is recommending members accept the deal. The PCS Independent Left thinks this is a mistake and urges members to reject it.
The deal’s publication was delayed by a week at the behest of the GEC. This was because, when the Group officers first asked the GEC to take a view on the deal, they did not have all of the papers and information available to them. Key amongst these was the collective agreement underpinning the offer. This was finally given to the GEC just fifteen hours before they had to vote on the offer, and has still yet to be published to members.
Much of what is on offer is the subject of uncertainty and varying interpretations even amongst the negotiating team. However, a number of detriments are already clear:
- Longer term members on older contracts will have less annual leave.
- Many members in London will have a longer working week.
- Members with alternative working patterns due to caring responsibilities, particular needs or personal circumstances will be forced to reapply for these and they will expire after five years. (Members may at that point “apply to extend the arrangement for a further period not exceeding five years,” which implies a hard ten-year limit on such arrangements, though this is so far unconfirmed.)
- The Reasonable Daily Travel policy, which prevents members being forced to move to an office more than an hour’s travel away, is being removed. The supposed mitigation, that all factors should be considered including home working as an alternative to redundancy, already applies.
- The new contractual terms have already been confirmed to mean that the MIS Agreement, a key protection for telephony workers, will no longer apply. There is no guarantee of what will replace it.
- Members based in the Customer Services Group who currently do not have to work weekends or evenings can now be compelled to work one evening a week and six Saturdays a year.
- Saturday working no longer attracts a premium and is paid at plain time rate.
- Overtime also no longer attracts a premium and is instead paid with a flexi credit.
- Once the new contract is agreed, there is a provision that “Where HMRC reasonably considers that the needs of the business require, this, HMRC may permanently change your individual working pattern,” meaning that those outside of CSG may also be compelled to work unsocial hours not previously required.
There are positives in the offer, such as the introduction of a contractual flexi right for all and members getting up to 30 days’ leave in a shorter time period. However, the pay rise itself is in essence a payment for accepting a new contract and many will see a detriment as a result of that.
There is no new money attached to the offer, and whilst it addresses low pay and pay progression in the short term, once the three years of the deal is up there is no funding to carry on pay progression and therefore no guarantee that the same situation won’t simply re-occur. The existing lack of pay progression was itself the result of a previous pay deal that the then-GEC recommended and which was voted for despite many members voicing concerns, so this may just be history repeating itself.
Like the DWP Employee Deal, this offer is already causing huge division amongst members. This is a situation that the HMRC GEC allowed itself to be led into, with the negotiators agreeing to secretive talks for months whilst the Group haemorrhaged members due to ongoing office closures and failed to recruit newer workers to replace them. Recruitment may be spiking now that there’s an offer on the table and you need to be in the union to vote on it, but that’s no guarantee of sustainable growth after the ballot. If anything, the division in members because of who wins and loses and the lack of a serious organising effort to fight for the betterment of all suggests the risk of a continued decline overall despite the spike. With the Group already below 50% density, and with management well aware of this, the danger here cannot be overstated.
As for the wider union, acceptance of this offer removes the union’s second largest Group from the fight for national pay bargaining. That puts more power in the government’s hands and makes the union’s position all the more difficult.
We must campaign for rejection of this offer, as it is a lot harder to regain what’s already lost than to extend what we have. Whatever the outcome though, we cannot stop there. PCS has, over years, failed to resist the introduction of a two-tier workforce or to even demand equal conditions for newer workers. Healing the division this offer is causing means addressing that shortcoming and building a genuine fight for the betterment of all.
The positives in this offer show that HMRC can improve things where it has the will to do so. If we want that to come without strings, we need to rebuild genuine union power in the workplace.