PCS DWP Group Executive recommends acceptance of pay offer
The context for the DWP Pay Deal includes years of public sector pay freezes that have depressed members’ living standards. We operate in a very hostile industrial environment, in large part because of the failure of other union leaderships and the TUC itself to fight back against cuts, privatisation and pay freezes. The Tories have launched vicious attacks on PCS for fighting back against austerity and no single group of workers in our movement has fought back more consistently and determinedly than those in DWP. This resulted in the withdrawal of the check-off facility and an attempt to bankrupt and smash the union. The PCS leadership under Mark Serwotka and Janice Godrich fought off this attack and has emerged stronger and more determined than ever. But significant work must still be done to build up membership and density levels throughout PCS, including in the DWP group itself.
PCS has been campaigning hard against austerity for many years including the public sector pay freeze. We have argued that the best way to defeat the pay freeze is to build joint coordinated action across the public sector but despite this being official TUC policy, they and some other key unions have failed to build this action. While continuing to press this demand PCS in government department groups is campaigning hard to get settlements that will improve our members’ wages wherever possible. In the PCS Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Group this meant campaigning, including a letter writing initiative to MPs which resulted in a debate in Parliament that exposed the disgrace of low pay in the department – 40% of staff receive benefits to top up their wages – and led to management offering negotiations.
PCS has put DWP management under considerable pressure to resolve low pay and the pay differentials between DWP and other government departments which resulted from the Tories abolition of national civil service pay bargaining in the mid 90s. DWP got permission from the Treasury for pay flexibility to breach the 1% pay cap that would mean “substantial” increases to 60% of the lowest paid DWP staff but linked to contractual changes which would allow an increase in areas which open to the public in the evening and Saturday. There is no doubt management aim to bring in these changes anyway to deal, in their view, with the changing nature of the business. PCS does not accept these changes should be linked to the issue of pay however walking away from negotiations in which management had linked these issues was never a serious alternative and would inevitably led to their imposition with no gains in terms of pay or protections around their implementation.
PCS group negotiators have been involved in lengthy talks to discuss pay and management’s plans for opening hours which has resulted in an offer which our members will have the final vote on whether to accept in June.
The PCS DWP GEC discussed the full offer at length and on balance took the decision to recommend the offer to members because of the safeguards that have been negotiated in terms of contractual changes and the large amounts of money available for the lowest paid at each grade in scope, whose pay has been held down for many years. It is clear that the offer means different things to different people and has the potential to divide our members. In such difficult circumstances any union is duty bound to gain as much as it can to improve living standards for its most poorly paid members and protect as much as it can in terms of changes to conditions and build the campaign to win further concessions.
The pay part of the offer means that all members in the first 4 grades in the DWP will be on or make significant progress towards a single spot rate of pay by 2019 – fulfilling a longstanding PCS demand for the rate for the job for each grade. This addresses the significant problems that have existed over pay progression where the majority of our members have not progressed through the pay scales for years since the Labour government introduced pay restraint. The spot rates are set at a level with other government departments which addresses the issue of lower pay in the DWP where members in different government departments doing similar jobs can have a difference in pay of £1000s. Over half of our members would receive a pay rise of 10 -21.6% over the next 4 years. We recognise that we were unable to negotiate a similar pay rise for those members on the max of their payscale, but all members receive more than 1% each year in this offer. The discriminatory and discredited bonuses would also be almost wiped out by this pay offer by year 4 by putting money into the consolidated pay and benefiting all members which has been a long-standing PCS demand.
If the new National Living wage continues at the current projected figures, which have the caveat of being a target subject to sustained economic growth, then this will significantly catch up to the rate for pay in the AA grade by April 2020. PCS is determined to fight for pay increases above the national minimum expectation and will use the fact 93% of our members will be on the single rate of pay to pursue further increases in 2020. We will also seek to move the remainder of staff, who have been prevented by Treasury restrictions on individuals’ annual pay increase, onto the rate for the job – i.e. the maximum for each grade. The increases to the spot rates will be guaranteed for members by this offer however PCS has retained the ability to negotiate further should factors like inflation rising above current rates impact on the pay increases.
There will be full consultation before any changes to opening hours to the public where PCS will thoroughly go through the rationale for change and what genuine demand there is from the public and what levels of staffing are required. It is not that long ago that PCS negotiated around the ending of Saturday working in pensions and working age benefits where there was not sufficient demand to warrant the opening hours.
All those members who currently have 8-8 contracts would also be covered by these new safeguards which include :-
● Anyone who cannot work evenings or Saturdays will be protected – the Equality Act obviously applies but all members not covered by this legislation will also have their personal or caring circumstances properly considered. We have negotiated an extra tier at regional level to deal with unreasonable decisions and put pressure on local managers to make the right decision at the outset.
● No members will have to increase their working hours
● For those who are able to work some of their current working hours after 5 or on Saturday we have negotiated protection in the frequency that this can be asked- to no more than 1 evening in 5 or 1 Saturday in 4. Anyone who works a Saturday can chose their non-working day including the following Monday which means they can continue to have a 48 hour rest break in the week.
● Any member can opt out if members vote for the offer to be a collective agreement. PCS has retained the right to continue to push on the pay for these members which management has held down.
The PCS DWP GEC recognised that whilst the offer represented some positive elements such as the increase in pay to the rate for the job for our members, it is clear that not everyone gets a lot more than 1% and that the contractual changes worry many. The recommendation to accept was taken after much discussion but we felt that the safeguards that have been negotiated would be best secured in a collective agreement rather than allow management to simply impose “guidelines” with no legal status. Our assessment is that the levels of action required to prevent the changes to working hours are unlikely to be voted for by the significant number of members in line for an increase of over 20% over the 4 years at the time of a 1% pay cap, and that if we can bank the pay increases and contractualise them, that puts us in the best position to fight the detriment, using the strength gained from having a collective agreement to hold management to account over issues that the whole membership can unite over. This would strengthen the union’s ability to defend members and the pay increases would become a contractual right. We are clear that any attempts by management to breach the collective agreement would result in a strong, united response from PCS and our members in DWP.