Civil service workers in Northern Ireland are very angry but not shocked by First Minister Peter Robinson’s call for a two year pay freeze for those earning more than £21,000 a year. Robinson, just like his Assembly colleagues from all parties, needs to portray public service workers as a drain on public finances to make way for the draconian cuts to public services. Civil servants are an easy and popular target of attack and politicians are happy to peddle the myth they should feel lucky to have a job. It suits their purpose to paint a picture that civil servants have inflated salaries and outlandish pensions. The reality is very different. Robinson’s proposals would mean that these workers, many of whom are at the bottom of their pay scale, would stay at the bottom of their pay scales without incremental progression and being paid less than the rate for the job. Years of Treasury restraint which set limits on civil service pay means that most workers have, in real terms, already taken a 10% pay cut over the last 8-10 years. Civil servants are the only public servants whose pay is directly negotiated with the Assembly. This means they are the only public servants whose pay can be cut by the Assembly. It’s a flavour of what the Assembly would do to health and education workers if they could. Behind the public pretence of challenging the Tory cuts our local politicians are more than happy to make workers pay for the economic crisis caused by the greed of millionaire speculators. Public and private sector workers must stand together and unite against this onslaught on low paid workers. We shouldn’t allow this Assembly to divide workers or to pick us off one by one. Opposition to attacks on civil service pay must now become a central demand of the general fight against cuts. It will also be necessary to prepare the ground for a campaign of industrial action if the Assembly begins to move towards cutting pay.
The world is a mess. War, poverty, and oppression are now part of the daily lives of billions round the globe. Even during the last boom 80% of the world’s population – 5.4 billion people – lived on less than $10 a day. Now that the world is in the midst of this crisis even the head of the World Bank has said it will result in “a human and developmental calamity… the number of chronically hungry people is expected to climb over 1 billion this year”. The wars in the middle east, enviromental destruction and worsening economic turmoil are only the most recent striking examples of the crises facing humanity.
BT has offered workers a 2% pay rise with two one-off payments of £250 – one of which will be at the managers discretion. This pathetic offer is nothing in comparison to BT’s profits which were up 11% in the third quarter of 2009. BT rejected the CWU’s claim of 5% despite the fact that this would only equate to just 1.1% of the companies £5.7 billion projected annual profit. Meanwhile, BT’s profits look set to go up. The recent volcanic ash cloud and its lingering problems for air travel will mean a surge in conference calling – a definite unexpected increase in BT’s profits.