For the first time ever, civil servants in Northern Ireland have had their pay imposed without consultation or discussion. Finance Minister, Simon Hamilton took the unprecedented move without any recourse to the trade union, NIPSA, and completely ignoring the agreed negotiating structures. Not even Thatcher or any direct rule Minister has ever acted in such a high-handed and cynically political fashion.
It has been clear for a while that all Assembly Ministers have no respect for public service workers or the services they provide but they have now made clear that they have no respect either for the trade unions that represent those workers.
There is no doubt that civil servants are shocked by the fact that they did not get a formal pay offer on which they would be consulted and they are angry that what has been imposed is a pay cut. For most workers, around 53%, all they will get is their annual increment. Most pay scales have around 5 or 6 points which workers climb up each year. The maximum of the scale is long accepted as the rate for the job so for each year that workers are below the max they are being underpaid. For around 43% who are on the max of the scale the increase is a non-consolidated bonus. This is shameful. Many low paid civil servants are below the living wage.
The response to this, from the NIPSA Executive, has been nothing short of pitiful. Instead of an immediate response, the NIPSA Executive has stalled which already sends a message to its members that it is not serious about challenging the political decisions of the Assembly parties. NIPSA Broad Left members on the Executive argued that the union should immediately begin a consultation with the members on a serious programme of industrial action including sustained strike action that could challenge the political imposition of a pay cut and link it to a challenge to the Assembly’s cuts in jobs and services. It is clear that one-day strikes or half-hearted action will not in itself be enough to win. That position was not initially agreed. A further meeting eventually agreed on the need for sustained action but unfortunately this is not going to be linked to a real challenge to the Assembly parties implementing the cuts. So long as unions continue to blame only the Tories for the destruction of jobs and services then they continue to let the Assembly parties off the hook and public services will be decimated in the process.