Jersey: island unions to fight cuts

Submitted by Matthew on 15 April, 2010 - 3:39 Author: Bea Mills

Teachers, firefighters, nurses and other public sector workers seem set to take industrial action in Jersey against a pay freeze and £10 million in cuts.

The teachers’ union, NASUWT, have called a march and rally on 24 April, to defend public services on the island. It will be the first march and rally seen on the island since the Nazi occupation!

Firefighters are due to begin industrial action on 20 April, with a withdrawal of goodwill escalating to strike action. The Jersey fire service is seriously understaffed with only just enough crew to cover shifts. It is already dependent on goodwill. If one firefighter is not able to make a shift then a double-shift has to be done by someone else. Where do you find £10 million in cuts in a situation like that?

Teachers will open a ballot for action on 26 April, after a long process of satisfying Jersey’s anti-union laws, but more challenges are expected.

Nurses are just behind teachers in the balloting process.

Unfortunately, civil service workers have caved in and accepted a two-year offer from the government of 2 per cent for 2010 and 2 per cent for 2011. They have got themselves into a multi-year award with no independent review body and no break clauses, and with an employer that has a track record of reneging on deals. Indeed, the employer has already stated that the deal is too generous.

Jersey is now in the process of constituting a council of unions so that all the unions can act together. It is widening membership of this committee to private sector unions and will no doubt begin to draw in other groups of campaigners on the island as it grows. It is a council that is very much focussed on fighting the States Assembly over the coming cuts.

Students at the island’s only college are also organising themselves into a branch of the National Union of Students and will join the march and rally on the 24th.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking to random people in coffee shops in St Helier over the past couple of years. Only in Jersey can you sit down in a coffee shop and start reading a Marxist book and end up with an audience within ten minutes. That audience has ranged from doctors and lawyers to single mums out of work, self-employed workers, students, unemployed, teachers, shop workers...

They all say the same thing.

“We want to fight the States [the government], we don’t know how to do it.”

The disputes that the unions have with the States Assembly are over the removal of free collective bargaining and the failure to negotiate a pay award for 2009.

But in talks with the employer, the NASUWT indicated that two more disputes would be taken up. The first was against cuts — a dispute that would be pursued along with the rest of the public sector unions.

The second dispute caused a collective cry of outrage and disbelief when heard about at NASUWT National Conference and was over parity with the UK in maternity leave and pay.

Maternity pay in Jersey for teachers is 12 weeks. You get six of those when you go off on maternity leave, you get the other six when you get back. If you then have one day off in the next three months, for any reason at all — authorised sick leave, bereavement, accidents, anything — you have to pay all of your maternity pay back.

Teachers have been told they can have improvements if these come out of their future pay awards; they, the employers would discuss it further but only if the ballot was called off.

The picture is the same for each of the public services who, in order to satisfy Jersey Law, have to go through these mediation meetings with an employer who doesn’t care and won’t budge.

Jersey has no party politics and is run by a States Assembly made up of independents. The Council of Ministers is at the top end and comprised of a bunch of six multi-millionaires known as the “Ski Club”, as they have in the past set term times around their skiing trips.

The Chief Minister — who is elected by his fellows in the Council of Ministers and not anyone else — is Terry Le Sueur. He is extremely unpopular with the island population for bringing in regressive tax policies that have favoured the ultra rich. You have to pay extra tax on food, books and clothes, but there’s no tax on yacht fuel!

The Treasury Minister Phillip Ozouf is the one who is driving through these cuts and pay freezes and who looks set to privatise the public sector.

Increasingly, he has bypassed the existing negotiating machinery and is now taking up HR matters with the Chamber of Commerce and bypassing even the States Assembly itself.

The time to fight back in Jersey is well overdue!

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