THOUSANDS OF civil servants have defied anti-union laws to unofficially walk out of work in the last two weeks against a management offensive. The action was sparked by management suspending 28 union members for refusing to carry out a performance-related pay assessment scheme. The one-day walkouts took place in Scarborough, the Glasgow Appeals Service and Sheffield on Thursday of last week, and Manchester Rusholme social security office on Friday.
There was huge disruption across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which covers job centres, the benefits system, pensions centres and the Child Support Agency. Workers and management are engaged in a bitter dispute over poverty pay and a pay scheme called the Performance Development System.
Around 90,000 PCS members struck solidly in the DWP in February and April. The PCS group executive, which runs the union in the department, last week decided to step up the action. It is calling for a three-day strike at the end of this month, followed by a five-day strike at the beginning of July.
Management suspending workers has increased the temperature of the dispute. They suspended one union member in Scotland, one in Morecambe, nine in Leeds, one in Leicester pensions centre, one in Scarborough, eight in the Glasgow Appeals Service, one in London and five in Sheffield. Chancellor Gordon Brown spoke of his determination to slash 40,000 jobs across the civil service and enforce a pay cap of 2 percent in a speech to the Chamber of Commerce two weeks ago.
New Labour wants to break the PCS union and force through pay restraint across the public sector. This has given management the green light to launch an offensive to stop PCS members boycotting the Performance Development System.
Nigel Prendergast was suspended last week. He is treasurer of the DWP East London PCS branch and spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity. "I have been temporarily relieved from duty without pay," he said. "I will not be welcomed back to work until I agree to carry out the assessment system. My intention at the moment is to hold out. The Performance Development System is more than just another assessment scheme. It is based around quotas. Last year around 30 percent of staff achieved the top mark. This year only 10 percent can reach it. Some 10 percent of staff will be awarded the bottom mark. If the system is applied to basic pay the majority of staff will get 1.5 percent pay rises. I was suspended at 4pm on Monday of last week. Informal meetings were arranged across east London for Tuesday morning. These meetings took a vote and, while there were a number of abstentions, the majority voted to walk out for the rest of the day. Eight offices took part. The pay assessment system is a major threat in our department. If they get away with it, it will be imposed across the civil service. The way to defeat this is through mass noncooperation."
Oli Rahman, the branch chair of East London DWP branch, said, "Management are playing bullyboy tactics. It is shameful. The PCS branch will do whatever it can to support Nigel Prendergast. The walkout of 400 staff caused huge disruption. Management knows people will not back down. The Labour government and management don't like the union, but the union is there to represent the views and interests of the members."
Claire Donnelly, a PCS member in Sheffield, told Socialist Worker, "Management suspended a member of staff for refusing to comply with the Performance Development System on Thursday of last week. Car park meetings were called all round Sheffield district. Around 400 people voted to strike in solidarity. People think it's really disgusting that someone can be suspended for carrying out the official work to rule. Management were able to keep the offices open but it was absolute chaos. Management are rocking. But we haven't got them yet. They are being very nasty. I have been given notice that I'll be suspended on Tuesday if I don't comply with the assessment system-my responsibilities only include one person!"
The magnificent walkouts show that civil servants are bitter against their management and determined to fight. Escalating the action is the key to winning this crucial dispute.
Eight days action can help us win
By PHIL PARDOE, DWP group executive committee (personal capacity)
THE GROUP executive decided last week to recommend a three-day strike in late May and then a five-day strike around the pay settlement date of 1 July. This is a step in the right direction. It accepts the need to escalate our dispute to win, and that the membership is behind this. We are also putting the department's 2004 pay claim to the employer as soon as possible.
All the strike dates have yet to be announced. The three-day action is subject to consultation with regional committees, and the five-day strike will be balloted on. An enormous number of reports under the new pay assessment scheme, with its quota system, will be through at the end of May.
People are likely to be incredibly upset about this. There are no indications that the suspensions, and the walkouts in response, will stop. Our employer is very worried.
People don't just feel angry about the pay offer. They are also fed up with the assessment system. The New Labour government's flagship Jobcentre Plus scheme is falling apart. There is an intense hatred for the DWP's human resources director Kevin White. It is important that PCS members now keep up the pressure.