Saturday, 9 January 2021

What's going on? 2020

 17 Dec 2020 | Festive season message

Members of the country’s largest civil service union have spoken of going into thousands of pounds worth of debt to pay rent and bills, ahead of today’s parliamentary debate on pay, secured by PCS.

The union which represents 180,000 staff in the civil service and related areas, secured the debate after more than 100,000 people signed a petition calling on ministers to give government workers a fair pay rise.   

Civil service pay has fallen in value by up to 20% over 10 years causing increased hardship for workers in government departments, Non-Departmental Public Bodies and facilities management staff on outsourced government contracts.  

Ahead of the debate, PCS member “Jane” from HMCTS, revealed that she was in “£6,000 of debt on credit cards” which she was forced to incur in order to feed herself, pay her bills and afford her rent.  

She said: “I use food banks one week (sometimes 2 weeks) a month because if I didn't, I wouldn't eat. I live alone and so I am the sole income, despite being disabled and I struggle to cope with every day.”  

Speaking of her immense pride at working for the civil service but warning she will not be able to cope unless she gets a significant pay rise, Jane added: “I love my job but I cannot survive much longer and I'm having to consider other positions outside of the civil service - I want to stay where I am, I'm good at my job and I love making a positive difference to people's lives, but I'm being forced out of my job because it's simply not enough to survive on.  

“I have huge hopes for this debate - my career depends on it.”  

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka thanked Jane for her dedication and said his members would not put up with being treated like second-class public-sector staff. 

He said: “Civil servants have kept the country going in the pandemic, providing Universal Credit, delivering the furlough scheme, working at the ports and borders and keeping prisons and courts running.   

“The fact they have faced pay freezes and cuts over the last 10 years is an outrage and should bring shame to any government.   

“All our members want is to be treated fairly and with dignity. We hope ministers will take this debate seriously and pay civil servants properly for the incredible work they do.   

“Failure to do so, will mean we will have no choice but to take a stand, up to and including taking industrial action.”  

The pay debate is scheduled to take place from 4.30-6.30pm today in the House of Commons. 

Following today's debate, we are hosting a Facebook live event at 7pm to discuss it and the next steps in our campaign.

Mark will give his reaction and answer questions from members. The event will be chaired by PCS President Fran Heathcote and will also hear from Labour MP Rachel Hopkins, who is due to take part in the debate as a member of the PCS Parliamentary Group.

If you have a question for Mark you can email it in advance to editor@pcs.org.uk


27 Nov 2020 | Anger at pay freeze pushes petition past 100000 signatures

Widespread anger over the public sector pay freeze has seen the PCS petition for fair pay for UK government workers surge past 100,000 signatures.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the freeze in public sector pay in the government spending review on Wednesday (25). And PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said the freeze left civil servants and other public sector staff feeling a deep sense of betrayal. And since then more 10,000 additional people have signed our petition. Now that it has past the 100,000 mark it must be considered for a parliamentary debate.

A pay freeze is a slap in the face for millions of public sector workers who have worked hard to keep vital services running during the pandemic.

PCS called for a meeting on pay of all public sector workers at the TUC, which will take place on 7 December, because this is an issue for people in so many different parts of society.

We thank all our members and supporters who have signed and shared our petition, showing their strength of feeling over pay after suffering over a decade of pay restraint.

However, we don’t stop now. We want all members to sign the petition. And we want as many activists as possible to help us encourage our members to sign it. Aside from talking to work colleagues and friends, activists can sign up to volunteer to help contact members.

Our activists will be contacting members again this weekend so members should expect a text from PCS.

How to volunteer
If you would be willing to get involved in texting, please complete the sign up form and we will be in contact to make sure you can set up a CallHUb account and receive the necessary briefing and training.


Outrageous pay freeze latest insult to key workers
20 Nov 2020

A public sector pay freeze, which chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to announce next week, is a grave insult to millions of hard-working government workers whose dedication has kept vital services running during the pandemic.

The chancellor will set out his spending review next week, giving details of how much money will be allocated to different departments during the 2020-21 financial year. And he is expected to make the case for pay restraint to reflect a fall in private sector earnings this year. So once again it is UK government workers, who have suffered a 20% real-terms pay cut because of pay freezes and caps over the past decade who have to pay for a crisis.

This year during a time of crisis our members have:

  • delivered the job retention scheme
  • dealt with millions of Universal Credit claims
  • kept our justice system running
  • kept government running
  • kept our transport network open
  • kept our borders open and secure.

It is therefore crucial that PCS members and supporters show their disgust at the plans by signing our online petition for fair pay for UK government workers and force MPs to debate the issue in parliament. The petition has been signed by more than 75,000 people and once it reaches 100,000 it must be considered for debate in parliament.

It shows a strange sense of priority by this government that on the day that the Tax Justice Network has produced a damning report about the scale of global tax avoidance that the UK government is seeking to save billions from the wages of public sector workers, rather than clamping down on tax dodging corporations.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Civil servants along with millions of other public sector workers have kept the country running throughout this pandemic and the last thing they deserve is another pay freeze.  

“Our members have been providing Universal Credit, collecting tax, securing our borders and prisons in this unprecedented pandemic and have already suffered 10 years of pay restraint.

"Private companies have been allowed to secure lucrative Covid contracts to the tune of £17 billion, yet ministers are not prepared to reward their own staff for all the incredible work they have done this year. 

"If Rishi Sunak fails to pay public sector workers properly, there will be widespread anger and industrial action cannot be ruled out.”


09 November 2020 | PCS briefing
To: All Members in Department for Work & Pensions Group, Jobcentres and UCSCs
DWP/MB/146/20
 
DWP Safety Dispute in Jobcentres and UC Service Centres - PCS wins further concessions
Members briefing DWP/MB/139/20 highlighted a number of concessions PCS had managed to achieve in negotiations with DWP, following the consultative ballot of members during August. The thousands of you that voted in that ballot, returning a just short of 80% “yes” vote for action, has placed PCS in a strong position during negotiations.
The above briefing confirmed that we had already used that positive result to make gains against our key demands of withdrawal of the notice to extend services to 8pm and a Saturday, and for no increased footfall in Jobcentres; until it was safe to do so.
 
▪︎ Concessions
PCS had robustly pursued these demands and negotiated a pause in the notice to work to 8pm until March and a commitment for Work Coach “empowerment” in Jobcentres. These concessions effectively remove the immediate risk that extending the opening of these offices would bring during the week, and would be a significant step in controlling the face to face requirement for our members in Jobcentres.
 
Despite these positive measures being agreed they were not enough to satisfy the GEC that sufficient progress had been made to settle our dispute, not least as the autonomy of Work Coaches would still need to be implemented properly and a number of members gave the announcement a cautious welcome, wanting to see it bed in properly before accepting it delivered a control on footfall, and the extension of Saturday working still on the table.
 
▪︎ PCS serve notice
In light of this position, the GEC agreed to write to DWP with our remaining demands, with a deadline by which to respond. Following this deadline the GEC, in consultation with a number of branches, took the decision to serve notice of a strike ballot involving a number of workplaces, whilst agreeing to continue with negotiations throughout the week.
 
▪︎ Further gains made
The GEC has continued to press DWP strongly on our demands. We have been very clear that the safety of our members is our top priority, and while we welcome the decision around 8pm and the decision to allow Work Coaches the autonomy to decide if claims need to be progressed digitally, by phone or in person, these alone would not satisfactorily mitigate the risk of extended opening and increased face to face activity.
 
The GEC is pleased to report that as a result of our collective response, using the consultative ballot result, the strong feedback we received from members and branches, the willingness of members in branches to move to a strike ballot, and the forceful pursuit of our demands by GEC negotiators, we have secured further improvements that go some way to mitigate the risk faced by members in Jobcentres and the 21 UCSCs. 
 
The GEC have secured the following agreements as a way forward:
• Footfall in Jobcentres - Full autonomy to work coaches to decide how best to progress a customer’s needs, whether it be by telephone, digitally or, only if necessary, face to face. We have also reached agreement to revert back to seeing only the most vulnerable customers face to face, when they cannot be supported by any other means, during both the current lockdown and in Tier 3/equivalent areas, in England, Scotland and Wales. 
 
The combination of both Work Coach “empowerment” and restricted service in the highest risk areas, should go a long way to achieve our demand of no increase in footfall on our front facing offices.
 
• Extended late opening - The department has paused its intent to press ahead with plans to operate to 8pm across many of the 266 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres. We have also reached agreement that existing working patterns, including Covid relaxations, will roll over until next year. This means that no extension of operating hours will take place in these offices, Monday to Friday, no 8pm working will happen in until March 2021 at the earliest, and only staff who have continued to work to 6.30pm throughout the pandemic can be expected to do so from 30 November.
 
• Saturday operating - PCS have not agreed to the department’s decision to press ahead with Saturday working in these sites. We maintain our position, that extending operating to 6 days a week in these offices is unnecessary and increases the risk to safety in those workplaces.
 
We have, however, made progress and have been able to agree to limit the service offered on a Saturday, by appointment only, to those most in need that cannot be seen any other time, with ad-hoc callers being dealt with front of house and signposted on how to progress their claims remotely.
We have also secured for those offices in higher risk Covid areas and/or busier locations that only the most vulnerable customers will be seen, and throughout December these offices will reverting back to the service they provided between March and July.
 
▪︎ Still in dispute
Despite the real progress made PCS is still in dispute with the employer, and while we have taken the decision not to proceed to a statutory ballot at this stage we will keep the implementation of all of the above under review, as well as the situation post December.
The GEC will meet later this week to review the ongoing situation and review the latest feedback from branches. 
 
Martin Cavanagh - Group President
Charles Law - Industrial Officer

PCS demands more workplace safety measures as Covid restrictions increase
21 Oct 2020

PCS has sent the Cabinet Office a series of demands for safe working, including making face masks and 2m social distancing mandatory in all civil service workplaces, as coronavirus community restrictions continue to increase across the UK.

With infection rates rocketing in many areas, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has written to Mervyn Thomas, Cabinet Office executive director for employee and trade union relations, ahead of a meeting tomorrow (22). He urged the civil service to “anticipate such developments and to prepare for the changes that undoubtedly are on their way” as Wales goes into a ‘firebreak lockdown’ from Friday, and Northern Ireland already in circuit breaker lockdown, while tighter restrictions are also in place in Scotland and large parts of England.

His letter detailed a number of action points:

1.    Compulsory wearing of face masks in all civil service workplaces, as well mandatory 2m social distancing at all times

2.    A renewed initiative to ensure as many staff as possible work from home that offices open to the public be closed where it is possible to provide services by other means.

3.    Installation of air quality monitoring to measure CO2 levels in work areas

4.    Ventilation of fresh air within workplaces

5.    A commitment to provide 100% recycled air conditioning units with UV filters installed in all buildings.

6.    End of hot desking.

7.    Thorough cleaning of all workspace areas by trained cleaning staff with required standard of cleaning materials used.

Mark concluded the letter by stressing that all these actions should be overseen on a building-wide basis with a uniform approach in multi-occupied buildings and managed through building-wide joint union/management safety committees. This uniform approach should apply to contractors and private sector companies.

If you have concerns about workplace safety, contact your PCS rep or our coronavirus response team.

Not a member? Join online today.


UC Service Centres and JC Festive Leave

Date: 14th October 2020 | DWP/MB/142/20.
To:     Members in UC SCs & JCs,
Department for Work & Pensions Group

GEC negotiators met with Work and Health management on 8 October to discuss the proposed leave levels over the Festive period.

At the meeting we highlighted our concern that the % levels had been shared to site managers to work to before they had been discussed with the union. W & H management apologised for this and have undertaken to ensure that this is better managed in future.

Local discussions about additional flexibility
The business has set minimum absence % levels for UC and have said that they will seek to agree additional local flexibility above these levels in discussion with local TU branches.  It is important that these discussions take place in all branches before leave is confirmed so that additional flexibility can be agreed wherever possible.

They also confirmed that in sites where there is a high level of Non-working days during the period that there will be additional flexibility applied to the % levels so that the members in those sites still have access to reasonable levels of leave throughout the Festive Period.

Members in the office and WFH have equal access to leave
W & H management also agreed that it would be ensured that members in offices and working from home have equal access to leave over the period, with neither group either favoured or disadvantaged.

Negotiators highlighted that instances had been raised where the requests for leave had not been done as a “clean gather” where members are asked for their preferences for leave over the period without restriction to gauge the demand for leave accurately.  W & H management agreed to re-iterate to site managers that this should be the way leave was gathered and if it was restricted to allow members to put down their genuine preferences before any decisions are made on who is allowed off.

W & H also gave a firm assurance that there should be no instances of “names in a hat” and that all decisions on leave requests should be made by managers on the basis of individual circumstances.

Autonomy over Face to Face meetings will ease pressure in JCs
The GEC made the point that given the agreement of autonomy for Work Coaches to decide on the best way that claimants can be supported it should be easier to manage the numbers needed in JCs over the festive period.  It was agreed that as no pressure will be put on members to see claimants Face to Face, this will allow the numbers in JCs to be kept at a minimum safe level to open if needed, and that appointments could be managed remotely wherever appropriate.
Important to maximise leave after a hard year 

In the talks the GEC negotiators made clear our view that after a trying year, where members have delivered for the public magnificently despite the huge problems the Coronavirus has presented, it is vital that members are given the opportunity to relax and spend time with their families.

W & H management agreed that all that can be done to agree members’ requests should be done and that requests should be looked at favourably wherever possible whilst maintaining the service to the public and numbers which ensure safety in the offices.

Annette Rochester - Group Vice President
Steve Swainston - PCS Group Assistant Secretary 
Ian Pope - PCS Group Assistant Secretary