LONDON action called off
By a PCS Socialist Caucus member in London
The planned strike action over job cuts in the London Department of Work and Pensions has been called off, despite a strong mandate from the membership for action.
To date DWP London Region is the only section of PCS in which members have actually voted “yes” in a ballot for discontinuous action over job cuts. The submission went to the National Disputes Committee just after Easter. The ballot was eventually won in September — some five months later. Now, however, the Socialist Party-dominated DWP Group Executive and SP full-time officials at HQ have effectively cancelled the strike saying they will “merge” it into national action next year.
Meanwhile 700 jobs have been lost, primarily due to relocation of benefit processing, and a further 300 jobs from the Disability Benefit Centre in Sutton, where work has been relocated to the North West.
London Jobcentre Plus is set to get rid of a further 650 posts by the end of March next year. Management have so far achieved much of their headcount reductions through the use of voluntary redundancy schemes. However, this is not the full picture. The crack down on those who are on long term sick leave is resulting in an escalating number of staff facing dismissal rather than redundancy - which is, of course, a cheaper option for the department.
In terms of service delivery the situation in London is no different than elsewhere. Benefit claimants are suffering due to delays in processing work. There are delays for those applying for national insurance numbers and those seeking training to find work.
There will now be a four week ballot on group-wide action finishing ending in early January. We should welcome national action against cuts — but not as an excuse to cancel action in London. This is the same “keeping our powder dry” strategy which led to the cancellation of action on pensions shortly before the General Election and the sell-out on a two-tier pensions system last month.
THE proposals on pensions published by the Fire Service management are even more draconian than those being imposed on other public sector workers.
Under the new scheme, which the employers want to bring in from April 2006, those due to reach the current retirement age of 50 before 2013, who have 25 years of service (i.e. who are currently at least 42 with 17 years of service) are okay. Those who don’t meet these requirements will face a new retirement age of 55. If they choose to retire at 50, they will lose some of the value of their pension.
New entrants to the Fire Service will become part of a new scheme in which the normal retirement age is 60. This new scheme will involve much lower employee contributions — 6.5 percent as opposed to the current 11 percent — and correspondingly lower employer contributions too. The “full” pension will be considerably smaller.
These proposals are clearly aimed to bring firefighters, who currently enjoy a relatively generous pensions scheme, more into line with other, hard-pressed public sector workers. The Fire Service management is telling firefighters that if they want early retirement, they will have to cough up for private pension schemes.
They may feel that the FBU, which did not even ballot to take part in the eventually cancelled strike action over pensions in the spring, has no confidence in its members’ willingness to fight — another baleful legacy of the betrayed pay dispute in 2002.
Mick Shaw, London representative on the FBU National Executive Council, has commented:
“The Government’s proposals for our scheme contain significant detriment for existing scheme members, who in some cases will be forced to work an additional five years. It is also proposed to significantly worsen ill health and injury pensions for members who are forced to retire early.
The Government justifies its decision for ceasing to treat firefighters and police officers by arguing that a firefighter’s job is not as dangerous as it was, even though their own figures show that our job is more dangerous than that of the police.
Members may shortly have to decide whether or not they are prepared to accept a worsening of our existing scheme and a second-rate scheme for new starters, or fight to defend a decent scheme for the whole service. Only action will persuade them to change their plans.”
West Midlands strike
FIREFIGHTERS in the West Midlands staged the first of three three-hour walk-outs on the evening of 14 November after the FBU regional committee voted unanimously to reject an offer on compensation for changes in shift patterns. It follows a vote of more than three to one (861 to 262) on a 68% turn out.
Earlier this year, firefighters were forced to accept worse shifts after a string of localised attacks following the defeat of their 2002 pay dispute. Events in the West Midlands show how Fire Service management has been emboldened to go even further than the terms of the compensation package agreed nationally when the shifts were changed.
There will be further three hour strikes on the morning of Thursday 17 and the evening of Monday 21 November.
defend Mark Cliffe!
MANAGERS at the Gadbrook Park distribution centre for Morrisons supermarkets in Cheshire have derecognised the TGWU senior shop steward, Mark Cliffe, on a variety of trumped up charges. Mark and other stewards at Gadbrooke Park have a strong record of fighting and winning for members - including significant pay rises and the ending of a no-strike agreement. Meanwhile the Morrisons’ board has thrown the company into crisis through its incompetence. In an attempt to make workers pay for this crisis, management aim to chip away and undermine the union.
While admitting that “there is no case to answer” on the bogus charges Mark faces, managers nonetheless gave Mark a written warning. This prevents him from standing for re-election as senior steward in the union elections this month. The same trick has been pulled on another rep at the same site, currently also fighting his case.
By dragging out the process to weaken union representation, the company clearly aims to get through as many assaults on the workforce as they can. Staff canteen prices have rocketed by 28%. The electronic “fob”, a staff canteen cash card which can only be credited by £1 or £5 and from which workers can't get change, means staff buying a meal priced at £1.01 are paying £5. As a result, workers are going without their meals. Demanding Mark’s reinstatement is part of the process of resisting these sort of attacks.
Help wish Ken Morrison a very unhappy Christmas!
• Rush protests to the site controller: Tony Riddlesworth, William Morrisons, Gadbrooke 2 Distribution Centre, Kings Street, Rudheath, Northwich, CW9 7WA. Send copies to the workers c/o 25A Delmont Road, Northwich, CW9 7HS.
NUT plans strikes over pay cuts
By Liam Conway, Assistant Secretary, Notts NUT
IT is impossible to disguise the fact that the NASUWT and the ATL have promoted and supported government policies which have already resulted in pay cuts for teachers and will lead to more of the same with increased workload from January next year.
They agreed to the removal of two points from the upper pay spine — points 4 and 5. This has cost or will cost every classroom teacher approximately £2,000.
They agreed to the freezing of Management Allowances (MAs) at 2003 levels.
They wrote and promote the current proposals which have led to the replacement of MAs with Teaching and Learning Rewards (TLRs).
They accepted that all new MA appointments should be temporary from May 2004 putting these staff at risk of pay cuts or loss of responsibility points in the new TLR structure.
They did all this because they are signed up to New Labour’s remodelling agenda which increasingly means the replacing of teachers by less qualified staff.
As the only union not signed up to remodelling and excluded from all talks on the new structure, the NUT is recruiting teachers from the other unions at a rate of knots. It is not difficult to see why. The NUT is committed to strike action wherever staff are threatened with pay cuts or new staffing structures are significantly different from existing ones.
Early results of NUT indicative ballots show strong support amongst members for action. If heads and governors in those schools threatening pay cuts do not concede the union’s demands on pay there will be strike ballots for discontinuous action.
These strikes will be the first serious teacher union action with a nationwide impact in many years. They are important in themselves to protect pay and conditions for teachers. There is no doubt that even the threat of action, as in my own school, has already won concessions from management.
However, the union must give a national focus to the action or look at what will happen if school based action fails to deliver during the short consultation phase.
More importantly, the success of the action must be seen in the context of the battle over the government’s White Paper proposals. Besides the dire consequences for the education of working class children, the privatisation of schools is likely to end negotiating rights for unions at a school level. A fight over pay in which the trade unions make real gains for members will place us in a better position to take on the government’s White Paper.
The NUT’s response has been in part a result from pressure by left activists organised around the excellent new Campaign Teacher, a newspaper which is becoming the talking point in staffrooms across the country. There is a real prospect of strike action before Christmas. Now activists must pressurise the union to provide a national action strategy focussed on defeating remodelling, the social partnership agenda and the White Paper.
Gate Gourmet workers left high and dry
ACCORDING to a Gate Gourmet senior shop steward, only 12 of the 144 workers who have received compulsory redundancy letters from the company have signed them. The deadline set by Gate Gourmet for the letters to be signed is 16 November.
The company says that everything in the deal — certainly the reinstatements, and possibly also the pay-off money for the workers taking redundancy — is conditional on all 144 signing. So it may be the case that the best the workers can now hope for is to win something in Employment Tribunal claims.
Gate Gourmet now has its contract with BA, and has got its production back to near-normal. The union has lost the leverage with the company it had even as late as October.
Meanwhile, rumours abound that British Airways plans to sack the TGWU shop stewards who organised the unofficial solidarity walk-outs which floated the dispute. The airline’s new chief executive, Willie Walsh is reported to be planning “new working practices”, ie attacks on terms and conditions, when BA moves its operations to Terminal Five in 2008. Getting rid of the stewards is part of that process.
Cleaners striking for a living wage at the Houses of Parliament have been offered a rise from £5.20 to £6 an hour, but only in return for 30 job losses and a reduction in cleaning standards — an offer rightly described by the TGWU as “totally unacceptable”.