United action to defend compensation scheme

The government is planning to slash thousands of civil service jobs across Britain and Northern Ireland and when they try to do it, they want to be sure that it’s as cheap as possible; that is the reason behind the change to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (redundancy scheme) which has been undemocratically forced through Parliament.

If workers are made redundant under the new scheme, they will be worse off by thousands of pounds and it is the oldest and longest serving workers who will be hardest hit. It is difficult to stomach that these changes to contracts can be forced on low-paid civil servants at a time when we’re being told that the “golden goodbyes” paid to expenses-cheating MPs and the huge bonuses to bankers are “contractual obligations”. Once again, it’s one law for the rich and another for the workers.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents more than 300,000 workers in Britain and about 3,000 in Northern Ireland, has chosen to fight back and so far has taken 3 days of strike action. Disgracefully, they have been left to do the fighting for all the civil service unions. The other civil service unions in Britain have surrendered.

In Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (NIPSA), which represents more than 20,000 civil servants, has supported PCS in a legal challenge against the change to the scheme but has, so far, failed to turn its opposition into practical action on the ground. After a long and unnecessary delay, NIPSA finally held a consultation exercise asking members if they were prepared to take action and despite the fact that the union had not given a clear call on the issue the overwhelming response was in favour of industrial action. Then NIPSA decided to do another consultation which will take more time. If that consultation returns a positive response for action, and the union is prepared to accept the outcome, they then have to enter into a ballot process which will take a further three to four weeks. Then seven days notice must be issued to the employer before any action can be taken. This means that NIPSA members cannot unite with PCS members to fight to defend themselves until the middle of May at the earliest! The danger in this long drawn out process is that members will become demoralised by the union’s failure to lead. 

Even if their union officials can’t see the importance of this issue, NIPSA members can see that redundancies are coming and are prepared to make a stand. They also know that any unilateral change to terms and conditions should be fought. If they are to defend their rights, then NIPSA members must take a first important step and ensure that NIPSA officials carry out the decisions of members and that the unions stand united against the cuts. NIPSA and PCS should seek to co-ordinate and organise their activity so that their maximum strength is brought into play. A campaign of protests and meetings to mobilise members should be developed so that when NIPSA members do have the opportunity to take action the ground has already been well prepared.

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TheSocialist spoke to William, a disabled low paid worker and single parent in East Belfast who relies on benefits which are now coming under attack.

“I’ve been receiving a small amount of disability benefits for a number of years following a serious breakdown caused by stress and overwork. Although I’ve managed to get back into some work, its only part time and at a very low wage. I get about £2,400 a year in benefits on top of my wages of £9,700, so life is a struggle.