IN DEPTH: Pay – the campaign goes on in DWP

It is clear from feedback from members that a number of our branches “cleared” the arbitrary 50% strike threshold imposed by this government, but in total that wasn’t enough to tip the balance across the union.

While it is understandable that many will feel that sense of disappointment, we should not allow that to detract from what was an excellent ballot result. The largest ever PCS turnout in a statutory ballot on pay, with the biggest ever vote for action our union has delivered, would have been celebrated in any other era and led to a national industrial action campaign designed to win the pay rise all our members deserve.

While that national action has been prevented by not getting past that 50% threshold, the ballot result has given the union the ability to pursue our demands with the government and Treasury, and has delivered the impetus to carry on with our campaign. The national executive committee (NEC) has already met to deliver a resounding endorsement of carrying on the campaign, as well as agreeing to take legal advice on whether the 50% barrier is a breach of our legal rights to “freedom of association”.

The NEC will meet again in November to firm up plans for the next phase of the national campaign, but has already committed to support any group who wishes to pursue their own campaign over 2018 pay, and have successfully moved a motion at TUC calling for a co-ordinated campaign across the public sector.

DWP Pay 2018
Not long after the ballot result was declared DWP published its three offers to members following negotiations with PCS and the other unions. The PCS DWP group executive committee (GEC) met on 30 August to discuss the separate offers made to our members in the following categories:

  1. AA – HEO grades,
  2. SEO – UG7,
  3. Staff on non-DWP terms and conditions.

The GEC unanimously agreed to recommend rejection of all three offers, and is carrying out consultation meetings with members in each site across the department. Our members in DWP have long been at the receiving end of pay restraint, and this year has been no different. Despite the government’s public pledges to end the public sector pay cap civil service pay has once again been held down.

Government departments only being funded for 1% increases has effectively seen a continuation of a cap that guarantees low pay for our members. While flexibility was given for the department to self-fund up to another 0.5% on pay in 2018 this has done nothing to address the aspirations we have for our members.

Impact on Employee Deal
Members in the AA to HEO grades will see no change to the terms of their pay since the acceptance of the 4-year Employee Deal (ED) in 2016. While PCS acknowledges that our members knew the terms of the pay on offer for each of the 4 years up to 2020, it is also worth remembering that a number of pay issues remain outstanding and are subject to the review built in to the collective agreement.

 

Members who proportionally did better out of ED, the lowest paid on each of the pay scales, are still in the main receiving above inflation pay increases, although their pay offer has devalued in real terms due to the significant rise in inflation, from 0.6% in 2016 to 2.5% at the time of writing.

 

Thousands of other members in these grades though are in an even worse position. That sharp rise in the cost of living has seen many awards, towards the top of the pay scales, fall below inflation and so those members are now receiving a real terms pay cut as a result. This is unacceptable and is exactly why we negotiated the ability to review the deal based on “economic and other external factors”.

There is no doubt that a 1.9% rise in inflation is a significant economic factor that demands a review of the previously agreed pay awards, and yet not according to DWP’s definition. It is incomprehensible that they state there has been no “significant change” economically to warrant going back to the Treasury for more money to address the situation our members find themselves in. After all, twice this year they have been given a stark reminder by their workforce of just how much low pay is affecting DWP workers.

Earlier in the year 70% of staff completing the department’s Wellbeing Survey, stated they had experienced severe financial difficulty in the “past twelve months”. A staggering figure in the largest civil service department responsible for providing welfare for the most vulnerable in our society. That should have made them sit up and take notice but if not, the furore that followed the announcement that ED payments were to be delayed really should have nailed it home.

It is therefore disappointing that the department has chosen to ignore the PCS negotiators and the feedback from its own workforce, and refused to go back to the Treasury for additional funding despite the commitment to review pay in circumstances such as those we find ourselves in.

DWP’s refusal also, of course, means that those staff in Special Location Pay Zones (SLPZ) and the 17% of the workforce that opted out of the ED, to keep their existing contract, are also left with the same awards of 1.1% and 0.25% respectively. This is simply unacceptable and serves only to punish these members further.

The offer for all of our members in these grades falls way below of what we expect and stretches the acceptability of pay in DWP to its limits. Members should not depend on annual non-consolidated awards, based on discredited and potentially discriminatory performance markings, to be able to afford “luxuries” such as holidays with the family, let alone “essentials” such as school uniforms for their children, and yet evidence grows that this is the reality.

It is clear that to our lowest paid members, a few extra quid makes a big difference, but even when DWP had the ability to give a little extra, they chose to distribute all of the underspend of the non-consolidated pot to the SEO and above grades.

Members outside of Employee Deal
The other two offers, capped by the same restraint in funding as applied to all civil service departments, equally falls way short of acceptable to PCS. Our members in grades SEO to G6, after years of seeing their pay capped in line with the 1% imposed across the public sector, and having been excluded from ED in 2016, could have expected more from the much publicised relaxation of the cap this year.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. The vast majority of members in these grades will once again be paid a flat 1% increase, exactly what has been enforced upon them over the past 8 years, with all the money from the increased flexibility put in to increasing the minimum of these grades; while those staff, of various grades, on non-DWP terms and conditions, will get either a 1% or a nil pay increase, depending on their salary.

Again this highlights the problem with such a restricted pay pot. Next to nothing meaningful can be achieved with 1% or 1.5% to play with, and our SEO, Grade 7 and 6 members won’t be fooled by the attempts to “top up” their awards with the non-consolidated underspend. It insults their intelligence to sell the offer as 2 or 3%, when either 0.8 or 1% of that is a one- off, non-consolidated payment that has no impact on actual salary.

What next?
DWP must go back to the Treasury and demand extra funding to address this pay catastrophe. Tinkering around with small amounts, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, cannot continue.

PCS is consulting our members throughout October, holding meetings in as many workplaces as possible, and will seek to use the outcome of the indicative votes in rejection of the offer as leverage to get the employer to go back to the Treasury. The DWP GEC is as committed as ever to playing a full and active role in the ongoing national pay campaign. Including those aims which include a decent pay rise for all of our members regardless of grade, the introduction of the real living wage and a return to national pay bargaining.

Fran Heathcote, DWP group president and PCS national deputy president, has no doubt what’s required: “Our members in DWP have suffered over a decade of pay restraint and falling behind their colleagues in other government departments. Even with the signing of the Employee Deal, which smashed the pay cap for many and re-introduced pay progression for the majority of AA to HEO members, pay levels are critically low. Members and PCS negotiators have made clear to the employer that enough is enough and they must do something to address falling living standards amongst our membership, many of whom rely on tax credits and different forms of credit to survive. This cannot carry on and that is why we will work with our members and the national union, to build a campaign that will deliver our pay demands for all of our members; whether AA or Grade 6; opted out of ED or signed up; in an SLPZ site or the North of Scotland.”

The message?
We all deserve a pay rise. DWP must go back to the Treasury and demand extra funding to address this pay catastrophe. Tinkering around with small amounts, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”, cannot continue.

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