In mid-February, the union will begin a consultative ballot of our entire public sector membership as to whether they are willing to take industrial action. This will be wider than the UK civil service and will include members in non-civil-service public sector employers where PCS also organises.
The campaign we’re launching is about the cost of living crisis now facing us. In a sense, there is a defensive or reactive element of the potential dispute, in that we’re responding to rising living costs. But there are several offensive elements too. Firstly, we’re demanding that the pay system is restructured, as it currently there is no guaranteed pay progression from the pay minimum to the maximum. Secondly, we’re demanding pay equality between workers at the same grade but in different parts of an organisation.
There’s also an offensive element around pensions, in that we’re demanding decreased employee contributions. The employer contributions were raised some years ago, but the pension fund is now in surplus and therefore under a cost sharing rule, imposed by the Government, we are saying that contributions should decrease accordingly.
The ballot will be conducted electronically, with the aim obviously being to get above the thresholds we’d be required to meet in a statutory ballot. If we get over 50% then the union’s National Executive Committee will have to decide whether to move to a statutory ballot nationally. We’ll have a group-by-group and branch-by-branch breakdown of the results, so we’ll be able to see areas of strength that might indicate possibilities for group-specific or local disputes even if we don’t move to a national statutory ballot.
As I’ve written previously, we cannot treat this ballot as a passive exercise in opinion polling. We’re not just checking what members think, we need to persuade them that a fight back is necessary and possible, and that they should vote for action and commit to that fight. We need to use the ballot as a mobilising tool, in the first instance to energise reps and activists in order that they can energise the wider membership. And we need to use the ballot to recruit to the union.
Now we’re in the new year, we also need to step up our campaigning around workplace safety in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the largest civil service department in terms of PCS membership. I have argued for some time that we need to move to industrial action ballots wherever we can organise them in the DWP, and I maintain that position.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, writing here in a personal capacity