In depth – DWP pay 2019

The result clearly meant that PCS had to review our strategy with regard the national campaign, with groups now being asked to feedback the latest position in their respective bargaining units and with the national campaign far from over, the union will take stock of the position across the delegated areas.

DWP offer is a betrayal of our members

The feedback the group executive committee (GEC) delivered to a national pay forum of senior lay reps on Tuesday 6 August included a resounding rejection of this year's pay offer from DWP.

Your PCS GEC met on 31 July to discuss the offers made to our members in the following categories; AA – HEO grades, SEO - UG6, and staff on non-DWP terms and conditions.

The GEC unanimously agreed to recommend rejection of the offers and to carry out a consultation with members in sites 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 declaration that the public sector pay cap is over. A 2% pay cap – only 1% funded by Treasury – is effectively now in place and has seen below inflation increases imposed on thousands of our members across the grades in 2019.

While the Treasury funding is clearly responsible for limiting the amount available to the DWP to spend on pay, the department is equally culpable due to their refusal to go back to the Treasury and demand the extra money needed to offer our members a meaningful pay rise.

Refusal to address serious pay problems

Members in the AA to HEO grades will again see no change to the terms of their pay award following the acceptance of the 4-year employee deal (ED) in 2016. While the union acknowledges that our members knew the terms of the pay on offer for each of the 4 years, PCS has always made clear that a number of pay issues remain outstanding and are subject to the review built in to the collective agreement.

Members who did proportionally better out of ED – those who were the lowest paid on each of the pay scales back in 2016 – may still be receiving higher percentage pay increases, but there can be no denying their ED pay offer has devalued in real terms due to the significant rise in inflation since 2016. At the time employee deal was overwhelmingly accepted in a membership ballot inflation stood at 0.6%, but it has consistently been much higher in the last couple of years, fluctuating between 1.9% (the rate of CPI at the time of writing) and 2.5% in the intervening period.

Thousands of our members at the top of the scale, including all AOs and EOs already on the spot rate in the national pay zone, received below inflation rises in July and yet, despite the review mechanism contained within the collective agreement, no more money has been directed towards these staff. Effectively this offer means a pay cut in real terms to these members.

There is no doubt that a 1.3% rise in inflation is a significant economic factor that demands a review of the previously agreed awards, and yet not according to DWP. It is incomprehensible that they state, for a second year, 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. It also shows how out of touch they are from the reality our members have to face every day.

Of course the situation is much worse for a significant number of members who find themselves even harder hit by the DWP's intransigence.

Their refusal to seek additional funding means 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.

Poverty pay

The full devastating effect of the employer's failure to even try and obtain extra money, is perhaps best shown when looking at the impact a fourth year of receiving 0.25% has for AA and, particularly, AO members.

An AA who has opted out will be receiving a pay rise within this pay round above the 0.25% they had implemented in July. This is not out of the DWP's generosity or because of the increased flexibility the employer has been given. In April these members will receive a statutory pay uplift because without it they would be below the government's national living wage (NLW).

It is also a reality that a number of AOs will also need to have their pay uplifted in April for the same reason. What an indictment on DWP as an employer. The department set up to provide help and support to the most vulnerable in our society now forcing their workforce in to that category.

It is equally disgraceful that a significant number of AOs who opted out now find themselves paid not only below the rate for their job, but below the AA spot rate. This includes every AO on the national pay scale that opted out.

Even if members can understand why the department didn't want to go back to the Treasury over the rise in inflation, we believe you will know why PCS is both appalled and angry that DWP failed to do so for these staff. No employer should treat any part of its' workforce in this way, let alone the largest government department.

It shows contempt for these employees to a level rarely seen before. Poverty pay is no longer a concept that we fight off in DWP – it is a reality our members face and cannot go unchallenged.

Offer rejected for AA-HEO members

The offer for all of our members in these grades falls way below what we expect and aspire to on your behalf. Members for too long had to depend on annual non-consolidated awards to be able to afford “luxuries”, such as family holidays, let alone “essentials", like school uniforms for their children.  

It is clear though that to our lowest paid members, a few extra quid makes a big difference, and yet none of these grades can even fall back on that meaningfully given the £250 imposed this year. Even when DWP had the ability to give a little extra, they chose to distribute the bulk of the non-consolidated pot to the SEO and above grades, and refused to accept the PCS suggestion of using some of the non-consolidated pot to top up the lowest paid – those only getting the NLW.

Members outside of employee deal

The offers for those members outside the employee deal, capped by the same restraint in funding as applied to all civil service departments, equally falls way short of what is 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 "increased flexibility" this year.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for the second year running. After last year seeing the vast majority of members in these grades once again being paid a flat 1%, this year all staff above the minimum of the scale will get a below inflation 1.5%, with much of the "flexibility" given by the Treasury again going towards the SEO band min. This is to address the leapfrogging that exists between the HEO-SEO grades as a result of the HEO ED pay rises. This should have been dealt with by the department going back to the Treasury for more money, even if only to fix this anomaly, but again they refused.

Equally members brought in to the DWP from either other government departments or local authorities, on non-DWP terms and conditions, will once again get either a 1% or a nil pay increase depending on their salary.

The above offers highlight the problem with such a restricted pay pot. Next to nothing meaningful can be achieved with 1% funding, even with an extra 1% flexibility, and our SEO to grade 6 members won't be fooled by the “top-up” of their awards with the non-consolidated pot.

PCS unanimously rejects the DWP pay offer – what next?

PCS is angry that once again DWP has failed to deliver a meaningful pay offer to our members.

Where a little extra money has been found in the SEO-G6 paybill, due to the flexibility given by the Treasury, that could have given an above inflation increase for all staff. The employer's failure to go back for additional funding to address the HEO–SEO leapfrogging problem, has resulted in money being directed to the mins of the scale at the expense of the other staff in those grades. This is unfair and impacts negatively on the longest serving senior grades in our department.

The real crime, however, has to be DWP's terrible decision to refuse to attempt to find a solution for those lowest paid workers. Those who are now depending on the NLW increase to bump up their pay in April and the thousands of AOs now paid less than their AA colleagues, have every right to feel betrayed and angry.  We hope other members will share those feelings.

These failures, added to their continued refusal to conduct a meaningful review of Employee Deal and the totally biased and skewed distribution of the non-consolidated pot have rightly led to the GEC rejecting the offers.

PCS have been clear all along – 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 will now embark on a consultation with our members throughout DWP, holding meetings in as many workplaces as possible.

A consultative vote on the offer will be taken at each meeting and the union intends to use the outcome of the indicative votes of
rejection of the offer as leverage to get the employer to go back to the Treasury.

This consultation will be part of a wider campaign strategy that will involve engaging members over the coming weeks and seek to maximise the leverage we have as the biggest group in the union.

The DWP GEC is as committed as ever to playing a full and active role in the ongoing national pay campaign, and our group wide campaigning activity will fit within this framework and nationally agreed conference policy.

The aims of that campaign, including a decent pay rise for all our members regardless of grade and whether opted-out or not, the introduction of the real living wage, and a return to national pay bargaining, are also our aims.

Martin Cavanagh, DWP group president and PCS national deputy president, has a strong message to the department and our members.

“Our members in DWP continue to suffer pay restraint and will again almost certainly fall further behind their colleagues in many other government departments as a result of this offer.

The employee deal, smashed the then pay cap for many and re-introduced pay progression for the vast majority of members, yet despite this the pay levels for thousands of our members remain critically low.

PCS negotiators have made clear to the employer that enough is enough and they must do something to address the falling living standards of our members, many of whom already rely on tax credits and other forms of credit to survive. This is now magnified in the final year of ED with over 1800 staff needing to receive a further increase in April just to reach the National Living Wage and thousands of our AO members now paid below the AA grade spot rate. This is not only unacceptable, it is abhorrent, and cannot carry on.

I have no doubt that DWP will feel emboldened by PCS narrowly missing the anti-trade union threshold in recent ballots, but this offer far from stemming our members anger or dampening the union's determination will only serve to re-invigorate our efforts."

This GEC will work with our members, branches, 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.

We all deserve a pay rise. We all need a pay rise. Now DWP must go back to the Treasury and make that happen. If not PCS and our members will be going nowhere anytime soon.

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