Friday, March 22, 2013

Government making it Civil War, not Civil Service

BUDGET DAY battlers challenge Con Dem austerity coalition.    

The Con Dem government is waging a two-pronged war against public services, hitting both the public who need them and the workers who provide them. Moves to restrict union rights, threats to facility time and getting rid of union representatives so as to intimidate the rest, it's all part of the game.

Last week members of the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS) registered their opposition to staff cuts and attacks on pay and pensions with a one-day strike on Budget Day, opening a three-month campaign. The union said it was taking this action because ministers refused to negotiate over cuts.   

All that Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude could say was that the strike was "futile".
He claimed fewer than 95,000 staff members had taken part in the industrial action, and it had achieved only a "minimal impact" on services. Plainly he is asking for tougher and more effective action to hit the government where it hurts.

On February 28 Maude announced that he was setting up "competency frameworks", supposedly to improve services. PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented: 

"The minister's stated ambition that he wants the civil service to deliver the best for Britain is rather undermined by the fact that his government has cut more than 60,000 civil servants since 2010, frozen their pay, cut their pensions and is now trying to rip up their terms and conditions.

"Under these circumstances it is difficult to see how ministers are creating anything other than a demoralised and impoverished civil service that will find it impossible to provide important services to the public."
Last week's strike saw demonstrations by civil servants, not just in London, but in Newcastle and elsewhere.

In fact the usual media talk about "Whitehall job cuts", pretending it is all about "Sir Humphrey" and his tea-drinking Men-from- the- Ministry has become not just a well-worn cliche but worse than a sick joke, as people can see it is hard working staff and front-line services being hit.

HM Revenue and Customs has said that from June to September, 13 enquiry centres in the north east of England will close. It has launched a consultation on the future of the network as a whole, which employs more than 1,300 workers. Staff have already been told it is "highly likely" all the offices will close.

In recent years opening hours have been reduced in around 250 local tax offices. Now the government wants to shift all tax advice and enquiry work into call centres, with people only offered a face to face meeting in exceptional circumstances.

HMRC has already faced severe criticism over its delays in answering telephones. Closing all 281 face-to-face enquiry centres in the country would cut off vital personal support for pensioners and other vulnerable taxpayers, the union says.

From the Customs and Revenue to the Coastguard. The government has announced plans to close more than half the country's coastguard stations, and last week it refused a recommendation from the House of Commons transport select committee to "rule out further [coastguard station] closures in the foreseeable future and confirm that the new arrangements...are intended to last for a generation".

In response it stated "[The coastguard service] will take advantage of [new ways of working, technology and continuous improvement] over the coming years and is likely to evolve and change progressively just like any other part of public service. No government committed to excellent public services could guarantee that there will be no further change 'for a generation'."

In a letter to transport minister Stephen Hammond, published in the committee's report, chair Louise Ellman writes: "We continue to receive worrying information from coastguards about staffing levels, management culture, morale and the arrangements for closing MRCCs [stations]."

To help clear the path for cuts and privatisation, civil service bosses are copying the methods of unscrupulous private employers and finding ways to dislodge conscientious trade uninists.

In Sheffield,  Lee Rock was sacked by the Department for Work and Pensions after 27 years as a union activist in the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), officially on the grounds of “attendance management”, which is officialdom-speak for sickness absence. In September 2012, he hit his so-called “consideration point” of 11 days’ sickness – and the DWP “considered” that this would be an ideal time to get rid of one of the most effective and outspoken militants in the DWP (where the PCS has over 70,000 members).

At the recent regional conference of Unite the Resistance in Sheffield, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka highlighted Lee’s case, condemning the “trumped up” charges. He has ensured Lee of the support of the national union and says he will demand his reinstatement “at the highest level”. The DWP group secretary will be forwarding to the national disputes committee the submission for the ballot to take strike action, initially in Sheffield contact centre, where Lee worked.

Lee Rock has been continuing in his post as local assistant branch secretary and still represents local PCS members – but management is making it as hard for him as possible. For the first meeting of the branch’s AGM after his dismissal, Lee had to be escorted onto the premises by a security guard – and was picked up afterwards, much to the embarrassment of the guard. He has since been banned from his former workplace, which means that even for official hearings, Lee, the workers he represents, the managers and the minute taker have to traipse miles across city centre to meet in a different DWP building. The whole branch executive committee, too, has been forced to gather at a different location for its monthly meetings.

Meanwhile, members of Lee’s local Sheffield branch have been collecting hundreds of signatures demanding his reinstatement and calling for strike action. 18 PCS branches have submitted similar emergency motions to the DWP group conference in May – there would have been even more, had most branch AGMs not already taken place a week or two before his dismissal on February 23. This wide support ensures that the demand for strike action will be heard in front of hundreds of delegates in Brighton. Management might have thought for a few days that they’ve seen the last of Lee – but clearly, he continues to be a thorn in their side.

Other trade union branches, individuals or trades councils who wish to send a message of solidarity to Lee or the branch can email it to the branch secretary at

Jon applied for numerous roles within the Home Office, many of which he was the only candidate for. On each occasion he was forced to take a formal interview and even had to sit a two-hour test for a job in an area where he had previously worked. He’s been issued a redundancy notice at a time when several posts are being advertised at his grade.

Jon’s appeal against his redundancy is taking place on 10th April at 1pm. In solidarity, CSRF are calling for a picket of the Home Office in London and a communications blockade of the permanent secretary Mark Sedwill.

Picket the Home Office

Whilst Jon’s appeal is going on supporters are calling for a large, noisy presence at the headquarters of the Home Office. "They have to know that we will not accept the victimisation of workplace activists and support all workers’ right to organise".

Wednesday 10 April, 12.30-15.30pm
Home Office HQ
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF



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