IL supports striking DVSA PCS members

On  4 and 5 December, PCS members in DVSA, an agency within Department for Transport (DfT), took strike action. The strike concerned payment for all  work related activities, in particular travel time between workplaces.  Presently DfT will only pay for a certain amount of the time spent travelling. The union of course wants all the travel time to be paid.

The strike  was well supported overall but there are clearly areas where the union has to work to improve the turnout next time.

The next, and in some ways more important phase of the dispute, centres on work to contract action.

DfT introduced a new form of driving test on the 4 December, over the strong objections from the union.  The Department wants a fixed number of tests to be carried out within the working day.

The problem is that this cannot be readily done as the new test is timed longer than the old test, so many Driving Examiners will find themselves not being able to ‘fit’ in the last test into the working day. They will be forced either to cancel this test (which is what working to contract will mean) or take the test but work ‘over time’ for no extra pay. The test itself also has dangerous features that are supposed to mimic real world driving but will increase the chances of accidents on test.  Working to contract means stopping a test if the candidate is driving dangerously rather than guide the candidate back to base. Using this tactic will mean many cancelled and stopped tests, all of which hits DVSA’s bottom line.

The government has demanded that PCS end the dispute before it will start talks aimed at resolving it. PCS has rightly rejected that demand. Interestingly, the Labour Party has now intervened and written to the DfT Secretary of State saying that talks must start without any preconditions.

Given the specific nature of the dispute it is probable that it cannot be escalated to the rest of the Department but nevertheless the wider union can and must show solidarity even if only in the form of fund raising. The dispute can be won but it probably will be a long struggle. In principle, if you carry out a work related activity then you should be paid for it. No free work should be allowed.

Exploited workers demonstrate at University of London on 21 November 2017

PCS Independent Left congratulates the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) on winning an official seat at the first University of London meeting of the Information and Consultation of Employees (ICE) forum held on 27 November 2017.

After three years of campaigning, organising and demonstrating, IWGB has become an alternative voice being heard in a formal setting with management and on the agenda for discussion was a review of the current outsourcing by the university’s Facilities Management.

PCS Independent Left actively supports the struggle of outsourced workers to be directly employed. In these times of imposed austerity it is the most vulnerable workers that will likely suffer the most  and it is for this reason trade unions exist, to stand up for the rights of those workers whose voices would normally be quashed when demanding union recognition.

The University of London currently has around 250 predominantly migrant and BME outsourced cleaners, security officers, receptionists, porters and post room workers employed through several companies. By outsourcing, the university is able to get away with employing these workers under worse conditions than their in-house staff and they find themselves on far worse terms and conditions than employed staff.

Outsourced workers receive worse pensions, holiday pay and sick pay entitlements than their in-house colleagues, but more importantly, outsourced workers are generally more likely to suffer from bullying, discrimination and illegal deduction of wages.

Set against this background, on 21 November 2017, IWGB held a demonstration outside Senate House London calling for all outsourced workers in the university to be directly employed.

The demonstration was organised to coincide with a visit by the university chancellor Princess Anne and the IWGB filing of a landmark test case against the University of London that could broaden the trade union rights of outsourced workers.

PCS Independent Left participated on the day showing solidarity with IWGB and the outsourced workers. The demonstration was well attended and supported by, among others, University and College Union, United Voices of the World, Lambeth Unison, SOASJustice4Workers and Ritzy Living Wage.

Numerous banners, flags, drummers and music ensured a high profile event that delivered an important message loud and clear, a message that could not be ignored.

IWGB thanked PCS Independent Left for its support and solidarity with the cause to better the lives of some of the most exploited workers in the UK.

More here

Towards a better pay claim

PCS has not changed its national pay claim for a number of years; despite Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, increased inflation etc., our claim still remains 5% or £1,200; the only constant in a changing world.

The PCS Independent Left thinks a better claim must be developed.

We believe this claim would include:

 

  • Equal pay. If you are an EO (say), then you should have the same pay rates as all other EOs in the civil service;
  • To get to equal pay means national pay bargaining is a must;
  • Underpinning pay awards to protect and promote the living standards of the lower paid and to prevent the widening of pay gaps between the best and lowest paid members must be an aspect of the move to, restoration and operation of, national pay rates and national pay bargaining;
  • A Decency Threshold, i.e. that the minima and maxima or Spot rates of the lowest paid staff should be contractually protected against inflation;
  • All staff in the AA to EO grades to be on spot rates;
  • And the the application of time based contractual progression pay of not more than five years for all other grades.

The move to national pay rates should not be at the expense of the real living standards of better paid members in the various grades: all members wherever they work must have their living standards protected and improved on the basis of “inflation plus” awards each year (not least to catch up on the years of decline) albeit the “plus” will have to vary to enable members in the lower paying areas to catch up with better paid members at the same grade.

A defined and contractually binding “minimum ratio” should be developed between the salary and bonus levels of the various grades of civil service staff up to Permanent Secretary (i.e. the highest paid employee in the civil service can never earn Y times more than the lowest paid although the ratio might from time to time be less).

Of the shopping list above, the demand for equal pay is key.

Most PCS members are unaware of the great differences in pay, sometimes running in the thousands of pounds, for civil servants at the same grade.

Therefore a claim of equal pay is much more ambitious that our standard claim. But let’s compare and contrast a pay campaign that asks for 5% or £1,200 to one that asks for equal pay.

Members hopefully would agree that a 5% etc. increase would be good and indeed deserved but they might think it unrealistic and so not achievable and therefore possibly not one they could fight for.

Psychologically though, it is easier to campaign for equal pay, to achieve something that already exists, for fairness, than just to ask for 5% or £1,200 – though in reality the effect of equal pay would be a greater increase for many. Of course there are possible legal remedies to win equal pay; there are none to win a 5% increase.

Critically even if we did win 5% or £1,200 that would still would leave many in the same grade on unequal pay. If we won a 5% increase that would in fact increase unequal pay; 5 % for better paid EOs would mean them moving further away from lesser paid EOs who also get 5%.

Therefore the IL wants to change the structure of pay and not just aim for an abstract number that has no grip on the reality of the world. That is why the starting point has to be a demand for equal pay.

 

Learning from others

Many of us in the Independent Left are great admirers of the work of American union activists and radicals grouped around the Labor Notes project.

They have produced a book called ‘Secrets of a Successful Organizer’, which we think should be required reading for the PCS leadership. The book, drawing on lessons from the US union movement, who work in a much more hostile environment than we do, sets out practical steps to win members to action.

We were particularly struck by the following, which we think PCS should officially adopt:

The Organizing Attitude

  • Action is better than complaining;
  • Problems are waiting for solutions;
  • Solutions are collective, not individual;
  • People can be brought together to make things better.

Over the next months we will talk further about the lessons from the book and how they can be applied to our union.

Now for the next steps; don’t lose the momentum

The turnout in the consultative pay ballot is an enormous tribute to the hard work of activists and many FTOs. It shows what can be done.

That said, whilst it is in principle the result is a mandate for action, we must not forget that PCS achieved less than the 50% turnout that it would need to secure a lawful ballot result (as defined by the Tories regressive anti-union legislation).  This despite the fact that easier methods of voting (including electronic voting) were used that would not be permissible under current legislation in an industrial action ballot. From what we understand electronic voting was crucial to the turn out figure.

In contrast, in the first nationwide strike ballot since the anti-union Trade Union Act 2016 came into full force in March this year,  the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) has successfully balloted 110,000 Royal Mail workers for strike action over pensions, pay and other issues , achieving a 74% turnout with 89% backing action.

We believe that the PCS leadership needs to learn from the CWU ballot and from their own many past failures to build sufficient membership support.

It has plentiful data from the consultative ballot to determine which areas delivered the vote and which did not. Therefore it should know where we are weak.

To put the union on a war footing and so to win the legal ballot, we urge the leadership to:

  • Carefully prepare the industrial action pay ballot (the PCS leadership’s habit of calling ballots with little notice, with all the attendant difficulties that brings, will simply not suffice).
  • Maintain, indeed strengthen the pay campaign, even over the ‘Christimas period’ so that the momentum that has been developed is not dissipated and need not therefore to be rebuilt. This will avoid the old but diehard PCS leadership habit of simply going quiet for long periods so that members begin to lose a sense of a live campaign – recognise that the membership is not a tap to be turned on and off at will.
  • Identify and target areas where inexperienced or unconfident or too few representatives means that the union’s campaign messages will not reach members clearly enough in the absence of external full time and lay activist presence.
  • Provide plentiful, varied and creative campaign material (which was none of those things in the recent consultative ballot) and to do so in good time every time, well before, as well as during the legal ballot.
  • Ensure that the PCS website becomes a proper tool for communicating with members and that an expertly prepared social media campaign is put in place and starts before the ballot begins.
  • Ensure that membership meetings take place and that members’ voices are heard before ballot notice is issued as well as afterwards.
  • Target at least the lower paying areas with details of how significantly they lag behind in pay terms – and therefore in pension expectations and severance entitlements – the higher paying areas even though they are in the same grade (the leadership has throughout its many years in office carefully avoided educating members as to the wild and arbitrary differences in pay between members in different “bargaining units”).
  • Advocate clear demands that would, if implemented, make a real difference to the lives of members (drivel along the lines of “They won’t talk so we must walk” – as if members would strike just to get whatever the PCS leadership calls “talks” – should never again be put forward by the PCS leadership).
  • Develop with activists and members a meaningful and convincing independent PCS industrial action strategy.
  • Be clear to members and employer that action will not stayed for the mere offer of talks.
  • Work and campaign with, and strike alongside, other unions where ever and whenever possible but not in such a manner that the interests of PCS members and the success of our campaign becomes dependent on the leaderships of other unions, so that our campaign can be collapsed by them at any time (the disastrous lesson of the PCS leadership’s conduct of the last pensions dispute alongside other unions).
  • Ensure that all negotiations with the employer are reported in a timely and meaningful manner to members (increasing accountability, involvement and understanding – the many time tried, tested and always failed secrecy with which the NEC and senior officer would be leftists surround union-employer talks must be buried with this dispute).
  • Boost its Fighting Fund urgently and massively (the decade+ long resistance of the leadership to the establishment of a fighting fund, and then the half-hearted establishment of the fund we now have, means that instead of the war chest long advocated by PCS Independent Left we have an inadequate sum of money at our disposal for a critical dispute).
  • Ensure that rank and file activist committees are set up everywhere, meet at times that activists without large amounts of facility time can actually make, and develop accountability to the activists and branches, calling national meetings throughout the dispute.
  • Work with activists, wider society campaign groups, other unions and the Labour Party to develop a meaningful, vigorous and challenging political campaign that takes advantage of the Government’s chronic weakness and places it under further pressure to move.

 

 

Solidarity from PCS Independent Left London

PCS Independent Left members based in London met last night to discuss motions for the upcoming AGM in November. Among the items discussed were our attitudes to the PCS approach to pay, workloads, performance management systems, the union’s legal services, full time officer accountability, political representation and Universal Credit.  Members in other parts of the country will be having similiar discussions before the AGM where decisions will be taken on IL policy and election slates for the coming union year. It was agreed that we should immediately publish two solidarity motions that were passed by London comrades and disseminate them:

Free Reza Shahabi

This meeting notes the report published on 17 October by the Shahrokh Zamani Action Campagin:

Three weeks after conditionally ending his fifty-day hunger strike on September 27th, Reza Shahabi has still not received any medical treatment in a hospital.

Reza Shahabi, a member of the Executive Committee of the Trade Union of the Tehran and Suburbs Vahed Bus Company began his hunger strike protest on August 8th as he entered Rejai Shahr prison in Karaj. He was protesting about the legality of his case – a new prison term of 968 days – and prison conditions. He conditionally ended his hunger strike when a high-ranking security official of the Iranian regime promised to deal with his demands.

Reza Shahabi needs immediate and comprehensive medical care to deal with the injuries he sustained during his arrest and interrogation, as well as many problems that have resulted from his long hunger strike. He currently has stomach problems and high blood pressure while eating. He is having many nose bleeds. Two operations on the vertebrae in his neck and back, carried out while he was in prison four years ago, are causing him severe pain. One side of his body is numb and the other is in great pain.

Although he is clearly very ill, he is being deprived of medical treatment in a hospital. This is simply because he is not prepared to go to hospital in handcuffs and shackles! This is how the Iranian regime treats labour activists, jailed workers and political prisoners!

This meeting:

  • Condemns the Iranian regime for its treatment of Reza
  • Calls for his immediate release and for urgent medical care
  • Sends solidarity greetings to all jailed labour activists and calls for their immediate release.

More here.

IWGB UoL Back in House campaign

This meeting notes the recent request by the IWGB to:

‘..come to our next strike and protest on 21 November at the University of London, Senate House. That will be the day the university’s chancellor Princess Anne is visiting for the annual Foundation Day. We want to make sure she understands what is going on and senses the level of unhappiness among the university’s staff, so we need as many people as possible at the protest. The picket will start at 2pm and the protest is scheduled for 6pm.‘

This meeting takes inspiration from the militancy shown by the IWGB members in fighting to improve their pay and working conditions and pledges to support them individually and through union branches in whatever way we can.

More here.