PCS left focus on living wage

Submitted by AWL on 6 February, 2019 - 9:26 Author: Mike Chester

The civil service union PCS has just completed a membership consultation on the 2019 civil service pay claim and campaign plan.

A February meeting of the union’s National Executive (NEC) will “press the button” for a new civil service pay ballot. At a December NEC, general secretary Mark Serwotka and the leadership proposed a pay claim of 8-10%. Phil Dickens, a member of the PCS Independent Left, the organisation where Workers’ Liberty activists organise in within the union, proposed the following alternative claim: •A living wage of £10/hour (£11.55 in London) for the lowest grades • Pay at all other grades to be uplifted in proportion •A spot rate [standard rate] for AO and EO grades based upon the pay max in the civil service •Contractual pay progression where there aren’t spot rates •Outsourced pay to be minimally brought in line with civil service pay.

Previously PCS has had a perennial “5% rise” formula, and IL has argued that goes nowhere near addressing the pay injustice PCS members have suffered.

The Living Wage and common pay rates across the civil service both appear in the official pay claim. There has been almost no emphasis on them, so the likelihood of them being addressed looks minimal. IL’s alternative claim makes common rates and a living wage the central points on which the claim hinges.

The claim eradicates the worst injustices of the current pay system — that there are workers who don’t make enough money to live, and that those of the same grade can have wildly different rates of pay. If such things remain apart from the claim, the government could arguably agree to the percentage PCS asked for without giving a living wage to all or equal pay for equal work.

Serwotka and the leadership of the union’s dominant Left Unity faction said IL’s claims was “too complex”. The points about spot rates and progression pay were mere “details for negotiations.” But for many members the lack of contractual pay progression being as big any issue as the lack of a substantive pay rise. Phil also argued that the ballot (or re-ballot) should be disaggregated by departments, but with a clear central steer on the demands. This doesn’t divide or erode the national nature of the campaign, but instead serves as a backstop against further failures to meet the 50% turnout threshold and allows the funnelling of resources into any group [sector of the civil service] which fails to reach the threshold.

There is a serious strategic and organisational deficit in the leadership’s reliance on the biggest sections of the union to drag the rest over the line for the ballot. As we saw with the MoJ pay offer that followed the ballot, an aggregated ballot doesn’t hide organisational weakness from the employer, though even from such a weak position, the reps in that group pulled off a heroic effort to see off the attack. In a disaggregated ballot, any group which didn’t make it past the line could similarly regroup, but instead of having to do so alone they would have the cover of an ongoing campaign by those groups that passed the threshold. We will know the results of the membership consultation in the week starting 4 February.

We expect the leadership’s proposal to win through as it was presented as a fait accompli at the consultation meetings, often poorly attended. IL will continue fighting for our claim and our strategy and encourage members to support and vote for our candidates, including John Moloney for Assistant General Secretary.

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