Over 80,000 members of the PCS civil service workers’ union working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are set to strike on Thursday and Friday of this week over pay.
The workers, based mostly at job centres, the pension service and the Child Support Agency (CSA), are in the front line of fighting Gordon Brown’s pay freeze for public sector workers.
The DWP’s management have imposed a derisory three year below inflation offer – despite an overwhelming rejection from PCS members.
The “offer” averages at just 1 percent a year over the next three years and will see the wages of the lowest paid workers “rising” to just 24 pence an hour over the minimum wage. Around 40 percent of staff will receive no increase at all in the second year of the deal.
PCS DWP group executive member Steve West told Socialist Worker, “Our strike will send an important message – not just to management, but also to the government – that we will not put up with this insulting offer.
“Brown says public sector workers have to tighten their belts. That might carry some credibility if he was also saying that to his friends in big business.”
The strikes in the DWP come against the background of job cuts and office closures over the past few years that have pushed the service to breaking point.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, says, “The government has got to start realising that its policies of cuts and driving down pay are not only damaging staff morale and services, but also creating the conditions for systemic failure across the civil service.”
PCS members in the DWP will follow the strikes with a two week overtime ban. This will have a big impact as much of the DWP’s work relies on overtime. It will also mean that the backlog created by the strike cannot be cleared before the new year.
“Workers are not just worried about pay,” says Dave Owens, a member of the PCS’s DWP group executive.
“Many – particularly those who work in call centres – also face attacks on working conditions. We face attacks on flexible working that will impact badly on anyone with kids or with partners working shifts.”
Behind the attacks lurks the possibility of privatisation. “Driving down wages and attacking working conditions make the DWP more attractive to the private sector,” says Dave. “That’s another reason why we have to resist these attacks and defend our jobs and our service.”
This is a good time to strike, says Steve. “The government is under pressure over the lost child benefit discs and the Labour Party’s funding crisis. This gives a chance to make them listen to our demands for decent pay.
“But we have to look beyond the strike days and the overtime ban, and plan for further action.”
Workers at the Child Support Agency (CSA) celebrated on Tuesday of this week when they heard that the government has dropped plans to transfer them out of the civil service when the CSA is replaced by a new enforcement agency in the new year.
Steve West, who works at the CSA, spoke to Socialist Worker about the victory.
“We have had a big campaign over this – it is about defending our terms and conditions. The government’s U-turn shows that pressure can make them listen to us. This has made people in the CSA even more determined to build this week’s strikes.”
‘We need your support’
Kate Douglas and Tina Watts from Oxford job centre spoke to Socialist Worker about why they are going on strike
‘The pay offer is pathetic. For some in our office it works out at a rise of just £26 a month. Many of us face mortgage payments that have already risen more than that.
The majority of people here are very fed up with the pay deal – it doesn’t reflect the hard and important work that we do.
Management have been axing thousands of jobs in the DWP, increasing people’s workloads and putting the service under immense strain.People are working very long hours – including weekends and evenings – and the service is still struggling to cope.
One of the things that has really angered people is the Northern Rock fiasco – to see Brown fork out billions of our money to bail out the bankers when we are facing a pay freeze.
During our past strikes we have had support on the picket lines from Unison union members, from staff and students at Ruskin college, from postal workers and others.
There will be picket lines at offices across the country on Thursday and Friday. We hope other trade unionists will support our strikes.’
All quotes are in a personal capacity.