“Our members have been offered a pathetic 2% pay rise, one of the lowest offers across the economy.”Mark Serwotka, PCS General Secretary
By Austin Harney, Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS)
On 12th December, PCS started its first day of sustained targeted action in the Civil Service against the low pay during the cost of living crisis, the cuts to our Civil Service Compensation Scheme and the low rate of our pensions.
The Strikes took place in the Driver and Vehicle Standards (DVSA) and Rural Payments Agency (RPA) across Scotland and the north of England. They held picket lines outside their workplaces despite the freezing conditions. In Durham, 100% of the driving examiners were on strike and on the picket line. Other test centres included Middlesbrough, Gosforth and Musselburgh. At Middlesbrough, Fran Heathcote, the National President of the PCS Union visited the picket line in Middlesbrough and there was support from DWP members along with the FBU who brought coffee for the pickets.
In Gosforth, there were two new PCS members on the picket line and a member who had never taken strike action before with a great deal of public support from passing cars. At Paisley test centre, there were around 13 members on the picket line joined by Liz McGachey from the PCS National Executive Committee, and Roz Foyer, the General Secretary of the Scottish TUC. A GMB union member working across the road brought cups of tea over for everyone.
All driving tests had been cancelled in many test centres with candidates arriving at some centres as the DVSA had not informed them. In RPA, the turnout across all three sites was 94% and members braved the snow to hold the picket lines at Newcastle and Workington.
Also, PCS has announced eight days of strike action at London Heathrow, London Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, and Cardiff airports as well as the port of Newhaven. Now untrained military personnel are being used to replace more than 1,000 trained Border Force Officers that are expected to take action. The PCS General Secretary stated: “Our members have been offered a pathetic 2% pay rise, one of the lowest offers across the economy. If she’s (Home Secretary) serious about resolving this dispute, she should put money on the negotiating table, not uniformed soldiers in our airports.”
During the ballot for industrial action, the PCS Union achieved a historic result by beating the 50% threshold in 126 employers out of 214, and returning a majority “Yes” vote. 86.2% was the highest percentage vote in the union’s history. 126 employer areas, out of the total of 214, crossed the 50% turnout threshold and returned a majority “Yes” vote. The average turnout across all balloted areas was 51.6%. The average turnout across employers with a turnout of 50% or more was 56.5%. 67 areas achieved a Yes vote of over 90%.
PCS members in the DWP, the largest government department, had a turnout of 50.4%. HMRC, the second largest government department, had a turnout 47.4% but will be re – balloting in order to apply the pressure against this current government. There is no doubt that we have a strong mandate for action in our key areas. There were a number of government departments who missed the 50% turnout by one vote and the National Disputes Committee are discussing re – balloting for PCS members in these employer groups.
It is without question that the most restrictive Trade Union Act of 2016 is failing to break the Trade Unions but make them stronger in order to organise a new “Winter of Discontent!” Last but not least, hundreds are joining PCS since these strikes have been announced and the majority of joiners are under the age of forty. Could this be the age of a new younger and more dynamic PCS Union?
This level of industrial action could be a golden opportunity for all Trade Unions at a time when the government seems to be the most unpopular and at its potential nadir!