Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Tales of the Unexpected - Home Office Strike Called Off!!

Regular Readers will remember my blog post from last week - Crying Wolf? It's Another Civil Service Strike!

I had argued that the demands were so wide-ranging it was unlikely that the government would make sufficient concessions that would satisfy a ideological driven union.

To my delight and surprise, the Home Office strike has been called off at such short notice and I had started to plan a piece following up how the tanker dispute shows the way forward for a modern industrial dispute. But this time, using the Home Office as the example.

Then, this was swiftly followed by Damien Green (he must have been delighted!) saying that he did not recognise the 1,100 new jobs that was suggested by PCS as the explanation for the strike being called off.

To find out what is really going on, I found that the PCS have helpfully linked to the job advert on their website. (PDF reader needed.)

The small print says:

"Applications from surplus staff applying on level transfer will be considered before applications from other level transfer staff/promotion staff and in line with the usual process. 

Redeployees applying on promotion will not be given priority status."

What this is saying is that these jobs are at the moment only open to existing Civil Servants at risk of redundancy within the Home Office and elsewhere in the Civil Service.

These are not new jobs.

This advert was available from the 20 July 2012, two days after the strike was called.

This same advert is the reason why the strike was called off at the eleventh hour on the 25 July 2012

If these jobs were to satisfy the "win condition" I alluded to in my post of the 19 July, then the strike should have been called off on the 20 July.

The PCS stared down the barrel of a PR disaster of their own making and blinked first. Despite all the desperate efforts to spin the other way, of which Malcolm Tucker would be proud, I simply do not believe the PCS version of events.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Crying Wolf? Its Another Civil Service Strike!

The Home Office Group of the PCS has announced a one day strike just the day before the opening ceremony of the  Olympics. The Home Office includes Identity and Passport Services, The Criminal Records Bureau and the UK Border Agency (UKBA).

When a strike is called, there needs to be a clearly defined "win condition" - what it will take for the union to gain the concessions required to call off the strike and resolve the dispute and there needs to be sympathy from the public at large to show that the union are on the right side of the argument.

Lets look at the first issue - The article from the BBC states: "The PCS is in dispute with the Home Office on several issues, including plans to cut 8,500 jobs and the threat of compulsory redundancies in the passport office in Newport, South Wales.
There are also disagreements over pay rises capped at 1% following a two-year wage freeze, privatisation of services, and alleged victimisation of union reps."

What is clear is that the dispute is so broad, there is no "win condition". The first time I went on strike, it was over the issue of safety screens within the Social Security Offices. The "win" was obvious - to get the DWP to agree that some security screen were necessary and needed in customer facing offices. And the management did agree which led to the strike being called off.

For the sake of argument, lets say that the government withdraw their threat of compulsory redundancy in Newport. OK, a concession for the union, but they will argue that the government has not gone far enough to meet their demands. So, what would it take? Is it even achievable? Or have the PCS decided to go on strike irregardless of whether some or any concessions be agreed between now and then?

With the UKBA being involved, it will only go one of two ways at places like Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover.

Long queues to get through Immigration and sympathy draining away with each minute in the queue. Or a well-rehearsed contingency arrangement in place that will mean no disruption at all and the PCS singularly and completely failing in their aim of making a statement.

Ironically, the PCS regularly accuse the Coalition Government of ideologically driven cuts. And yet the PCS leadership are just as ideological and dogmatic in the way they conduct their industrial relations. Ultimately, it is counter-productive, the Government will not back down, it will further entrench its negotiation position and they will not want to be blackmailed by a union in the same way Heath was.

The 20% turnout will only strengthen the hand of those who regularly call for a minimum turnout in a strike ballot making a strike even less likely in future perhaps when it might be needed more than ever. The story of the boy who cried Wolf comes to mind.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Civil Service Unions and Facility Time

The Government has announced a consultation into the provision of Facility Time within the Civil Service.

I declare interest as a member and former rep for DWP Eastern, DWP Cambridgeshire and DWP Norfolk and Suffolk within the PCS.

The role of a union rep is vitally important. In my brief time as a rep, I found that the majority of my work was related to helping staff with their problems. It might have been a bullying and harassment case; a grievance against a warning wrongly given or just sitting with a member talking to a manager about their sick absences.

The work of a union rep is vitally important to making sure that people are treated fairly and properly, upholding the principle of natural justice.

What we have to differentiate between, and the consultation makes this absolutely clear, is Trade Union Duties and Trade Union Activities.

TU Duties including representing members and TU Activities include branch meetings.

Both of these are proper legitimate reasons for a rep to take time off. The consultation is looking at whether it is appropriate to pay reps for the time off they take when they take part in their TU Activities. The consultation goes so far as to say that paid time for Duties will still continue. And rightly so.

The Civil Service code states that paid Civil Servants must be impartial and serve the government of the day whoever it might be.

It also gives rules and restrictions on who can take part in political activities for political parties such as the Liberal Democrats. If you are a Senior Executive Officer or higher, then you are barred from taking part in campaigning or standing for election to a local authorities. If you are below that grade, you must ask permission and do it in your own time. If you are adopted as a candidate for a parliamentary election, you must resign your post and apply for reinstatement.

This question of impartiality has already meant that I have objected to paying the political levy part of my monthly sub.

Other unions use their political levy as a membership of the Labour Party. PCS is not in anyway affiliated, however, in a recent ballot, PCS has agreed to fund candidates at an election who are opposed to the Coalition Government's cuts, which could include funding MPs such as John McDonnell but also Socialists. Despite assurances that it would only happen rarely, there is sufficient lack of transparency in the decision making process that it is a matter of when, not if.

I would therefore be funding candidates who would be in direct opposition to candidates from the party of which I belong to.

It is clear that the PCS as a whole have set themselves down the path of active campaigning opposition to Government policy through branch meetings and conference. As you should be doing that in your own time, it is indeed time to reconsider paying reps for their Trade Union Activities time.

*edited 18 July 2012 @ 18:29 with thanks to Howard for his constructive commentary on this post*

Monday, 2 July 2012

A Bunch of Bankers

Not before time, David Cameron has announced an parliamentary inquiry into the morals and ethics of the banking sector.

Considering that by all accounts, it appears that there has been widespread illegality and dubious sharp practises for some years, the comparison with the media inquiry as run by Lord Leveson makes the argument for a similar setup for the banking side just as compelling.

Lets be fair - the BBC reports that "This committee will be able to take evidence under oath, it will have full access to papers and officials and ministers including ministers and special advisers from the last government" which is good going for a Parliamentary Select Committee.

I am sure that as the head of the Treasury Committee, Andrew Tyrie has the relevant experience (being advisor to the then Chancellors of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson and John Major; and as an economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development), but the perception it creates about the relative importance of fully investigating the banking sector compared to the media means that an independent Judge led inquiry is crucial.

What is clear that all through the economic downturn and in the last few years, the Tories have argued for our European partners to be mindful of the status of the City and its contributions to the global economy when discussing the Fiscal Compact Treaty. It is clear now that the City does not suffer from a surfeit of red-tape but a lack of it.

Damn the cost of any inquiry. The banking sector has been growing fat at our expenses for years, time to call their bluff, investigate the sector fully and let anyone who whines go and find a job elsewhere.