by William Brooks, NIPSA rep (personal capacity) 

Last week, we were told Diane Dodds and the Stormont Executive were urging all civil servants to return to their offices, in order to boost city and town centre economies. This is the latest example of Stormont putting profit before workers’ health. The safety of workers should be paramount and any deviation from the guidance that has been set is endangering lives and increasing the very real possibility of another full lockdown, as stated by the Chief Medical Officer.

Civil servants targeted once again

Diane Dodds, the Economy Minister, and the Executive have once again decided that civil servants must again shoulder the cost for their own failing and inept leadership. Throughout the three years of inactivity at Stormont, it was civil servants who carried the country and it was civil servants, along with other essential workers, who have supported the most vulnerable members of our society during the Covid-19 pandemic. What thanks do we receive? An above-inflation increase in our wages? No. Instead, we get threats to close and relocate our workplaces if we don’t go back into unsafe office environments.

Civil servants are not sitting at home idle, but are carrying out the job to the best of their ability. With the R-rate now on the rise across Northern Ireland, there is a very real risk of a second wave which will lead to more unnecessary loss of life. Forcing civil servants back into offices unnecessarily will only add to this threat.

We need a real pay rise!

The Socialist Party supports the call made by the trade union NIPSA for civil service staff to receive an above-inflation pay rise. Civil servants – like other workers – spend most of their disposable income on goods and services, boosting the local economy. This would have a much more positive economic impact than forcing people back into offices unnecessarily and at the same derisory rates of pay. 

The demand for civil servants to return to offices in order to boost the economy shows the blinkered economic outlook and low ambitions of the Stormont politicians. Instead of relying on the private sector to create largely precarious and low-paid jobs, we need public investment to create secure, socially useful employment with living wages.

Organise to defend our rights

The Socialist Party offers solidarity with any action taken by civil servants to defend their health and safety at work, including walking out of office environments that are not compliant with the highest possible standards needed to control and stop the spread of Covid-19. We encourage all workers to join a trade union, organise with their colleagues and stand in solidarity across all sectors to ensure that the billionaires, not the working class, pay the price for this crisis.