By Sarah Barden
A new pay deal has been agreed between Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) and the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), but it is unclear whether the union’s conference and membership will accept the deal. The offer sees new starters getting a 5% pay rise over the next five years but existing staff would receive 1-2 per cent per year for five years.
The public sector pay remit for 2016 is limited to 1 per cent but the Cabinet Office has given the DWP flexibility so long as they can achieve some strategic goals, i.e. buy out some of our hard-won terms and conditions. After years of pay freezes and 1 per cent caps they think staff might just be desperate enough to take the deal.
Anyone starting after 2014 is already on 8am-8pm contracts, but those who started before are on 7am-7pm. There are also part time workers and term-time staff, many of whom work reduced hours to look after children. New starters have to work Saturdays as extended working hours for basic pay; existing staff work Saturdays as paid overtime.
The new pay deal would move all staff to the 8am-8pm contract and term-time staff could have their hours changed “to suit business needs”. For new starters like myself this deal is excellent but for existing staff who have not had a pay rise for the last 3 years it is a kick in the teeth. In our union meeting the majority of members said they are going to reject the deal, for which I don’t blame them at all.
Over the coming months there is going to be a ballot about the deal and if it is agreed (or imposed) then those who opt out will only get a 0.25 per cent pay rise each year and their hours will be changed according to business needs. Management have said that they will look at individual cases, but part-time staff are understandably concerned that their hours will be changed in unmanageable ways and the pay rise will not cover increased childcare costs.
Activists will deliver their verdict at the PCS conference on 24-26 May. It’s concerning that the union leadership in the DWP have accepted the offer but if the conference is anything like my branch the decision will be overturned and members asked to reject the offer in the forthcoming ballot.
For me it’s a pay rise with no change to my hours but I will be voting to reject the deal so that my colleagues who have worked there a long time get the deal they deserve. Allowing ourselves to be divided between new and more experienced staff will do us no good in the long term.
If the PCS DWP conference agrees to recommend members accept the offer, there will have to be a grassroots campaign for a “no” vote. To get a better deal there will have to be strike action and further negotiation. DWP is the biggest civil service department and very well unionised so we can fight and win, but we need a leadership that is willing to fight.