HMRC bosses have now announced their long-awaited pay "deal" to staff. The deal presented was the consequence of 15 months of secretive negotiations with union officers and full-timers. Not even the union’s democratically elected HMRC Group Executive Committee was given any details of the deal until late last month.
The deal gives above inflationary pay rises in exchange for a bonfire of terms and conditions, including selling weekends to the employer, sacrificing holiday entitlement and ripping-up previous standing agreements protecting call centre workers, among other things.
Despite a close vote on the executive, the union is recommending acceptance of the deal. PCS Independent Left comrades on the executive opposed the deal and will be campaigning for its rejection by members in the upcoming ballot.
While the deal includes no new money, and is a given in exchange for terms and conditions, it is understandable that some members, particularly at the bottom end of the pay scales who are already on poor contracts will see it as enticing. It is also true that without industrial pressure, it’s very unlikely anything better can be achieved. We understand that in opposing the deal we are arguing for an industrial campaign on pay, but believe of the two options it’s the best for all members in the long-run.
So why oppose?
Firstly, the union didn’t have to accept the premise of the negotiations. As soon as the employer told the union that negotiations would have to be conducted in secret we should have walked away and told members they wouldn’t accept such unreasonable terms for discussion.
The employer was well aware of the situation it was putting the union in with such a divisive offer and will reap the rewards of such division. The union didn’t have to take a position at all, but should minimally have stuck to the principles of open, transparent negotiations with members leading on demands.
Both Left Unity and the newly split Broad Left Network, who are in a leadership coalition in the union's HMRC group are responsible for this situation. Secondly, while it’s understandable that many see the money on offer as better than a pay freeze, for others the concessions on conditions will be far too much in exchange. For example, those staff who value, by desire or necessity, their weekends, these will be sold to the employer without any ability to opt-out. The employer’s own equality impact assessment, itself a rushed afterthought, identifies that women will be disproportionately affected. All staff in London will immediately find themselves having to give an extra hour of work to the employer each week.
Agreeing this multi-year deal effectively removes HMRC, the second largest group in the union, from the national pay campaign and any national ballot for the three years of the deal. It is richly ironic that the same people who claimed disaggregated ballots would split the union are advocating a deal which takes the second largest group in the union out of any national campaign for three years. No leadership serious about a coordinated national effort on pay would agree to having members picked-off from the fight in this way.
Lastly and most importantly, the union cannot keep selling conditions. It’s unsustainable because eventually we will run out of conditions to sell and it’s desperate because it illustrates very starkly to members and the employer just how weak the union is on the ground. Those advocating for the deal within the union - including the Socialist Workers Party - speak of the need for pragmatism to be victorious over posturing. But you can only sell off the family silver once In that sense, this isn’t a problem born out of the behaviour of the union this year, but of decades of the union’s power and members confidence to win being decimated by employers’ attacks and union leadership inaction.
The deal should be opposed on the above basis, but that opposition needs to be linked with an understanding that the fundamental issue here is much wider than this deal. This starts with the need to rebuild the confidence in our members’ ability to fight and to win and to dismantle the desperation that says the only way we can win even marginally better pay is to flog off our equally hard-won terms and conditions to employers.