Thousands of UK civil servants to take action over jobs and pay

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The threat of industrial action by PCS members across the Home Office was raised today with a vote for a strike over job cuts, pay and privatisation.

The union is in dispute over some longstanding issues, including the cuts in the UK Border Agency that continue to cause chaos at the borders and queues at airports.

This complements an ongoing national campaign by the union against cuts to pensions, jobs and pay, which included a strike across the civil service, health and education sectors on May 10th, as well as action by PCS members in other departments and agencies across the civil service – including the Department for Transport where a second month of rolling strike action is underway.

In a ballot of the union’s members in the Home Office – which includes UKBA, the Identity and Passport Service and Criminal Records Bureau – there was a 57.2% vote for a strike and a 75.8% vote for other forms of industrial action, on a turnout of 20%.

Possible dates and the forms of action that might be taken are currently being discussed by senior PCS reps and officials, and will be announced tomorrow.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Ministers have known about these issues for a very long time but have chosen not to act.

“We believe they have acted recklessly and irresponsibly in cutting so many jobs and, in the case of UKBA, they have simply tried to paper over the cracks by deploying severely undertrained staff at our borders.

“If these issues are not resolved, they threaten to seriously undermine the Home Office’s ability to provide vital public services, and we cannot sit back and allow that to happen.”

The issues under dispute are:

Jobs
As part of the government’s October 2010 spending review the Home Office announced plans to cut 8,500 jobs. Almost a third of the workforce will have gone by 2015. Some staff in Newport passport office have already received compulsory redundancy notices and the threat of more across the department looms closer.

UKBA, the department’s largest agency, is already well on the way to cutting 22% of its staff – 5,300 jobs – during this period. In the six months before October 2010, the agency had already cut 1,500 staff.

This is completely unsustainable and has had a major effect on UKBA’s ability to function. The National Audit Office has this week criticised the agency for cutting too many staff too quickly.

We wrote to home secretary Theresa May on Monday (16) to again outline our concerns about staffing and the problems caused by the lack of adequate training for temporary staff.

Pay and conditions
On the back of a two-year pay freeze, the government plans to cap increases at 1% for the next two years. After inflation this will mean an estimated cut in living standards of around 16%, before the increase in pension contributions is factored in.

In April the Home Office imposed a new performance management system that requires an arbitrary percentage of staff to be marked as ‘must improve’ even when their manager has not raised problems with their performance. Imposed changes to the sick absence policy include the removal of the ‘serious underlying medical condition’ exemption.

Privatisation
There are massive backlogs of immigration and asylum casework in UKBA. Serco, the company heavily criticised for leaving behind a mess in casework resolution that civil servants had to clear up, has offered its services to work for free for six months.

The same company has also been brought in to the border force to operate Cyclamen machinery, which scans for radioactive material.

We believe the Home Office is planning to privatise more work currently undertaken by public servants.

Victimisation
Two senior PCS reps, Mark Hammond and Sue Kendal, were sacked more than 18 months ago on what we believe were trumped up charges because of their opposition to the cuts in UKBA.

Many of the problems that they were raising have come to the public’s attention recently, with the shambles over passport checking and queues at airports.

We are currently dealing with for other cases where we believe reps have been singled out for their involvement in the union.


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