Brexit limbo makes pay vote win more crucial

14 Mar 2019

With the lack of clarity over Brexit, and the government in a weakened position, it’s even more important that we win the national ballot on pay which opens on Monday (18).

With uncertainty growing over Brexit and the potential of no deal being reached with the European Union by 29 March, PCS has been engaged in supporting members and exposing the sheer incompetence of the government.

When Article 50 was triggered two years ago, ministers were acutely aware that major planning would be needed to prepare for a changed relationship with the EU.

However, up until recently there has been almost no planning for any kind of change of relationship, let alone a ‘no-deal’ Brexit.

Border security

Leaked documents obtained by Sky News shed more light on Brexit plans in the event of a no-deal scenario, with warnings of “degradation of border security”.

The report went on to say there is the real possibility of “disruption”, “loss of data” and an “additional clandestine threat” emerging from less cooperation with EU nations.

The no-deal plan also assumes that UK citizens will no longer have access to ‘e-gates’ when travelling to the EU, but EU citizens coming to the UK will be allowed access.

The Cabinet Office has also revealed it is drawing together a 50-strong squad of civil servants as a contingency team to manage “fast-moving” and “major” events that spring from the UK’s departure.

Understood to be part of Whitehall’s planning for a no-deal Brexit, codenamed Operation Yellowhammer, staff will be given training on the workings of the Cobra system for dealing with national emergencies.

According to media reports, a job description for the secondments – which are due to run for a minimum of 12 weeks and were expected to start in February – says those selected will be tasked with “troubleshooting and devising creative solutions to difficult issues”.

PCS, along with fellow civil service unions FDA and Prospect, is due to hold a series of meetings with the Cabinet Office on the Yellowhammer operation.

‘Lorry park’

Meanwhile members have been suffering cuts in key departments that are directly affected by Brexit.

General secretary Mark Serwotka emphasised their plight on the BBC’s Question Time programme at the end of last year.

He criticised the prime minister for a lack of planning, saying: “If we leave with no deal, the M20 and the motorway system will be a lorry park for weeks on end.

“They are totally unprepared for no deal because Theresa May, in these two years, has made no preparation for it because she told the people that she would negotiate a good deal.”

He also pointed out the problems they would face if a customs deal wasn’t struck with the EU.

At the moment 1% of freight is checked at ports while the other 99%, which comes from the EU, is not. With PCS members struggling to do all the customs checks at the moment, due to staff cuts, there simply isn’t the infrastructure in place to cope with an increase in customs obligations if the UK leaves with no deal, said Mark.

“There would be absolute chaos at the border with huge delays and significant damage to the economy. We have neither the infrastructure nor the staff to deal with such an eventuality,” he said.

In HMRC, management has forecast that in a no-deal scenario, an additional 5,454 full-time equivalent staff would be needed.

Nearly 2,400 have already been hired, with the remaining 3,000 currently being recruited up until the end of March.

Deal for jobs

The union has argued that these numbers are likely to be inadequate in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The difficulty is that the exact staffing requirements will depend on the details, or absence, of a deal.

The government has also called for volunteers to move between civil service departments to assist with the Brexit process. They seem happy to regard the civil service as a single employer when it suits them, but pretend each department is a separate employer when it comes to pay.

Volunteers are not the answer – we need more staff and resources.

With this lingering uncertainty of Brexit it is even more important that members make sure their details are up to date and that we win the national ballot on pay.

The government is in a weakened position and now is the time to make them realise they need to pay their staff a decent increase, significantly above the rate of inflation.

Following decisions taken by delegates at our 2018 annual conference, PCS is calling for a general election at the earliest opportunity to allow people to vote for a government that will end the damage inflicted by the Tories.

An early general election that returns a Labour government would be the solution to the Brexit impasse and would put an end to Tory attacks on trade unions, cuts in public services, and right-wing xenophobia.

PCS also demands that there should be adequate resources for the civil service to deal with Brexit-related issues, an end to outsourcing and privatisation, and full consultation with our union to plan the Brexit process across the civil service.

This article is taken from the March 2019 issue of PCS People which is online now.

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