Building for a new pay ballot

Submitted by AWL on 16 October, 2019 - 7:49 Author: John Moloney, PCS Assistant General Secretary (in a personal capacity)
pcs pay

We are building towards a renewed dispute over pay and pensions for directly-employed civil servants in 2020.

Our 2019 conference voted for that, and some recent developments have given additional impetus. The government has told the union nationally that the civil service pension scheme is overfunded, meaning there’s more money coming in than going out.

This means it could absorb a 2% reduction in employee contributions, effectively a 2% pay rise. But the government has said they can’t do this, as they need the spare cash to pay for the fallout from the Fire Brigades Union’s victory in their own pensions battle!

This is obviously completely unacceptable so we are developing a dispute around that, alongside renewing our pay fight. Looking ahead, whoever is in power next year, we’ll be organising and balloting over these issues.

This time, we need to be much more upfront about what is needed to win the dispute. We should discuss and set out in advance, as much as is possible, the kind of programme of action we think will be necessary to win, so when people vote for action they know what they’re voting for and have some confidence that they’re voting for a course of action that can produce results.

We also need to find ways of making the ballot, and the wider campaign, something that lights a fire in members’ consciousness, rather than just a list of demands or policies.

We are also looking at other unions’ campaigning in ballots, including the Communication Workers’ Union’s current ballot in Royal Mail. They’ve used social media effectively to publish videos of large groups of workers all posting their ballots together.

We can’t replicate that mechanically; having lots of postal workers who are all being balloted in large, single-site workplaces makes that kind of thing easier for them, but there’s still something other unions can learn from in terms of making the process of balloting a vibrant campaigning activity in itself.

Last time, our ballot was conducted over Easter, which meant we effectively lost a week from the balloting period as many people were away. We can avoid those missteps this time.

The key thing is to build an effective campaign. We’re discussing with reps the best ways to communicate the demands and the message in order to mobilise members and give them a sense of ownership over and commitment to the dispute.

Our outsourced workers’ disputes are continuing, with discussions ongoing with ISS at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy following our victory in securing the living wage for Aramark workers there.

At the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where the outsourced contractor is Interserve, we’ve begun the re-ballot required by the anti-union laws, and we’ve also started the Central Arbitration Committee process to gain union recognition.

For HMRC cleaners in Merseyside offices, who are employed by ISS, there needs to be a discussion about escalation, which could be via extending the strikes, possibly to indefinite action, and/or via efforts to spread the dispute to other workplaces. If we secure victory over ISS at BEIS, that will break an important barrier at HMRC, where ISS has so far been intransigent.

PCS is also continuing discussions with reps and activists about developing our climate politics. I spoke at the trade union solidarity rally at the Extinction Rebellion action in Trafalgar Square on 12 October, and PCS put out a call for members to join that action.

We want to make climate change a workplace organising issue. Our members in the culture sector have done a lot of work around this, for example at the Tate and the British Museum, where they’ve campaigned against sponsorship by oil companies.

We’re also encouraging reps to raise emissions and other environmental issues within workplaces themselves, and make demands for workplaces to be greener and more efficient.

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