England, Wales and Scotland section of International Socialist Alternative

The PCS union and the way forward during Covid-19

Earlier this year the Public and Commercial Services union leadership announced the launch of a new “National Campaign” to take up issues around pay, conditions and pensions. The launch of this campaign followed two ballots for industrial action on the sole issue of pay, both of which, due to the anti-Trade Union laws, failed to meet the threshold for action.

The failure of these two ballots led to discussion and disagreement within the union on the way forward. One point of view was that any future ballot should only focus on pay; another argued that there were a multitude of issues facing PCS members that PCS ought to be fighting for including office closures and pensions.

Socialist Alternative members supported the latter tactic, and are pleased that this is now the de-facto position of the union with the National Campaign.

The pay claim

PCS had already submitted the national pay claim in the months prior to the Coronavirus outbreak; a claim including a 10% pay rise. But in a video published on the PCS official Facebook page, General Secretary Mark Serwotka announced that that claim will be parked, and an interim request of “an above cost-of-living pay rise as a down payment” is instead being asked for.

The Covid-19 epidemic has shone a light on the role PCS members play in society. Members in all government departments are playing a key and essential role in supporting members of the public suffering due to this crisis. This is underlined by the fact that a staggering 1.4 million people have now claimed Universal Credit. Assisting with UC claims in the DWP, providing information to the self-employed and small businesses in HMRC, and helping with access to justice in the Justice sector.

Health and safety concerns

Whilst PCS members are being told we are key workers, and being told that what we do is essential, the reality on the ground doesn’t feel that way. Members are being pressured to come into work when they have vulnerable people living with them; being forced into potentially dangerous workplaces putting their own and their loved ones’ health at risk. The worst case scenario is unfortunately shown in the unfortunate death of a PCS member at HMRC in Salford; and recently a member working in Border Force. There may be more which have yet to be reported.

It is unacceptable that any worker should put their lives at risk going to work. We say that all workers who are being asked to go into workplaces are provided with PPE and given the correct protections to ensure we don’t have to risk our lives. This must be in the hands of the ordinary workers ensuring that health and safety checks are carried out and risk assessments are made before any worker is asked to work in a building. Where workers do not feel safe entering a workplace the union must organise to ensure that no members feel at risk – and should follow the lead of CWU members in a number of delivery offices in not entering the workplace until workers feel that the appropriate health and safety advice is being followed.

Whilst we are being asked to continue to provide services, PCS members have faced a decade of pay freezes or insulting 1% pay offers. Since 2010, PCS members have seen a real-terms pay cut of 20%. The PCS demand in the National Campaign for a pay rise of 10% goes some way to righting this. While the ‘Employee Deal’ in DWP did see some increase to many workers’ pay, this was not the case for those who refused to sign up to later hours and Saturday working – who instead got a pitiful 0.25% increase!

The money is there for decent pay

However at a time when PCS members are most relied upon, and are working to ensure a service is still delivered to the public; it is disappointing that Mark Serwotka and the PCS leadership announced that this pay claim is parked and tabled for a later date. For ordinary PCS members who have suffered under pay restraint this is unacceptable. If we are essential we should be treated that way!

PCS must look to the example of workers in Italy who, even at this time of crisis, went on strike over the right to health. The trade unions here should reject the notion of ‘national unity’, and step up the fight over pay. The Tory Chancellor Rishi Sunak has shown that the ‘magic money tree’ does indeed exist with £330 billion being made available mainly for businesses.

We must demand a pay award which recognises the role we play, and which appropriately compensates us for a decade of pay restraint. Now more than ever PCS members are entitled to this basic demand. Many PCS members will have reduced household incomes due to family members being made redundant or furloughed. Our pay is a critical issue that can’t wait until this crisis is over.

No more cuts in the Civil Service

We demand a halt to reform programmes all across the civil service, transferring staff into fewer and bigger offices will only create further harm should a crisis like this happen again. We demand decent well paid jobs all across the country, rather than compacting all workplaces into a few big cities.

All planned office closures must be stopped, and there should be an end to all outsourcing and privatisation of services like building management, security and cleaning. These should all be brought in-house, with the workers classed as civil servants and given trade union recognised pay, conditions and contracts.

Socialist Alternative supporters will be fighting hard in the union to ensure PCS responds to this crisis with a campaigning, militant and socialist programme.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *