Over 290,000 civil servants will start a crucial pay ballot on Monday. Contrary to the stereotypical image, they are low paid workers suffering rotten conditions.
“THREE OF the workers in my office have got second jobs. And that’s out of 15 people.
“One guy works in a pub. He works from 8.45am to 5pm at the job centre, goes to work at the pub at 6pm, and doesn’t get home till 1am.
“People have to do this to make ends meet. Thousands of staff across the civil service are in the same situation.”
That’s the message from Robert Bryson, who works in a job centre in central London.
“My office is closing because of the government’s merger of job centres and benefits offices,” he says. “A third of job centres will close nationwide.
“There have been attacks on our terms and conditions over the last 18 months—it’s been hell. It’s only in the last month that the union has started to fight back.
“We now have a left wing union leadership and things are starting to change. A lot of people are joining the union.
“Even people who have been quite cavalier about things in the past are disgusted with what’s happening to us.
“In the job centres and benefit offices (now merged into the DWP—Department of Work and Pensions) we have had an appalling pay deal which we are balloting on now.
“We had a meeting on pay at my office recently. I only moved to the office from Stockport three or four months ago. I have been elected union rep.
“The previous union rep told me that people in the office were apathetic.
“But the union is revitalising. At the meeting everybody was saying, ‘We’ve got to go out on strike.’ Since the meeting I’ve had someone come up to me every day and say, ‘We’ve got to go on strike.’
“In the past at meetings there was always someone who’d say, ‘Hang on, this offer isn’t that bad.’ That’s not happening any more.”
Kerry Dorset works at a Jobcentre Plus office in Sheffield:
“I get between £11,500 and £12,000 a year. People on the lower admin grade get £9,500. How is anyone supposed to live on that?
“Pay is a very big issue. It feels like we could get people out on strike at the drop of a hat on it.
“There is huge anger, especially among the lower grades. People are really frustrated.”
Jewel Toropdor from east London says, “If you work for a council or in the private sector in a similar job to us you would get £19,000. We get £13,000.
“We are always short of staff. People have to do double the work to make up for it. A lot of members have to claim benefits like housing benefit or Working Family Tax Credit. It just shows what a low salary we’re on.”
job centre worker in Poplar
‘SINCE THE mid-1990s our pay rises have been a joke—but at the same time the government spends a lot of money privatising services.
We’re only on £1,000 London weighting.
Anyone who’s got a family or a mortgage and is working in the civil service will have a lot of difficulty living on our wages. I started in 1991, and it took me 11 years to reach my maximum pay rate.
If you look at all our pay rises we are far worse off now than we were ten years ago. Council tax has soared. Prices of houses have quadrupled—our bloody salaries haven’t.
Managers make lots of noises about caring for the service and the staff, but it’s all image. They don’t give a toss about anyone who isn’t an office manager.’
job centre worker in Poplar
‘MANAGEMENT HAVE just extended our opening hours from 4.30pm to 5pm, which we’re not being compensated for.
They want us to know about every benefit, but they don’t want to pay us any extra for it.
You used to be able to have 12 days of sickness before management made you have a back to work interview. Now they have reduced that to eight days a year.’
vice-chair of an east London PCS branch
‘OVER THE last decade the government has divided us and split us, and weakened the union in pay negotiations. That’s why we need to go back to national pay bargaining.
Everyday things are difficult to buy—clothing, food, transport. The London transport service isn’t good.
The government are spending £5 million on security for George Bush, yet they can’t afford to give us more money.
People in the admin grades can’t make decisions about paying giros out.
But it’s those frontline workers, not the management, who face the abuse, and sometimes attacks.
We have a new union leadership that is moving towards what people want. But it’s slow. Maybe when people see the results of the pay campaign they will think things have changed.’
branch chair of the DWP East London PCS branch
‘PEOPLE ARE frustrated. They work their guts out, but they don’t get their pay rise on time.
We work for the government, but other government departments get more money than us for the same work.
It’s about time the department took us seriously and gave us a decent pay rise. District managers in job centres get massive pay rises. Put them in a job centre and they wouldn’t know if they were coming or going.
People are going off sick because they are working hard and under pressure. Two people are often doing five people’s jobs.
I think people will reject this pay offer.
If management fail to listen to us we will have no option but to strike.
We have to take an example from the recent action by the post workers.
There are loads of issues in our department such as staffing levels and stress. People don’t feel safe to work in our department.
Go around any job centre or social security office and you’ll get the same response—people are fed up and saddened with the way the employer and New Labour are treating them.’
union rep at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister in central London
‘THERE ARE around 2,000 people who work in my department. Around 65 percent are union members.
Management have offered most people a sub-inflation pay rise of 1 to 2 percent. The union has started to go round to test the mood of members.
A couple of people I have spoken to already have said they’re definitely up for a strike over the issue.
People are getting more radical and pissed off. I certainly hear more dissent now than when I started working in the civil service in 2000.’