By a PCS Socialist Caucus member
The big industrial issues at the PCS civil service union conference were national pay bargaining, pensions and job cuts. Sadly delegates backed an NEC line that has achieved nothing on pay; has seen the introduction of a compulsory pension age of 65 for all new civil servants (leaving current workers open to a future divide-and-rule attack), and has allowed the continuation of a jobs cull.
Years of talks with the Cabinet Office have not dented the huge variations in pay rates between civil servants or produced one material gain for PCS members. Yet a motion highlighting the Treasury’s insistence on another year of low and unequal pay and instructing the NEC to immediately, repeatedly and imaginatively publish these figures, preparatory to a national ballot for industrial action was defeated in favour of the NEC motion.
The NEC called for a continuation of the “existing strategy” of “talks” and “campaigning”. Of course most right-wing lead unions have that kind of “strategy”. PCS, however, is meant to have the most politically radical leadership in the British trade union movement. The NEC’s motion commits it to a ballot if a “real degree of pay coherence” (undefined) is not achieved in 2006 (which it won’t be).
Conference, with the NEC, welcomed the reserved rights deal that will see new staff having to work until they are 65 under a different, career-average, pension scheme and explicitly allowing for new scheme members to be subject to an increase in membership contributions if the Treasury at a later date decide the scheme is otherwise unsustainable.
But the NEC did not report on any of the emerging pension arrangements for new staff, despite being told weeks before conference that new scheme members who choose to retire at 60 stand to lose one-quarter of their pension entitlement.
Whatever arrangements are put in place the NEC will likely sell them as a victory. Yet the union is essentially getting what the Treasury insists on. And the NEC continues to claim that the reserved rights are “guaranteed” when they are neither enshrined in pension statute nor contract and are reliant on the good faith of Blair and Brown.
Conference rejected a motion calling for a definite time-table of national industrial action over the loss of one in five jobs, in favour of an NEC motion which will essentially see the union continuing to manage job losses through a “no-compulsory redundancies” approach. Thousands of jobs have gone already and now it looks as if the government will achieve its total job reduction without national union opposition other than the national one day strike held in November 2004.
One positive development was the launch at the conference of a branch-based campaign aimed at winning support for national action on a positive programme of national pay, an end to low pay, a single national civil service pension scheme with accrual rate parity with MPs, and the defence of jobs and services.