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Bonfire of jobs: get ready for the fireworks

Nick Bird, PCS Assistant Secretary, Norfolk & Suffolk DWP Branch

 


 

Nearly 300,000 PCS members are preparing to strike on 5 November in a resolute response to the Government’s plans to slash jobs in the civil service. Last week, staff in 42 social security offices, jobcentres and call centres were told that their offices were closing. Local benefit processing will cease at 550 sites, to be centralised in large benefit processing centres.

 

As the news of these closures emerged – part of a plan to cut over 100,000 civil service jobs – workers in Manchester and Fife took part in unofficial walkouts in protest. The ballot for the official action will take place from 1-22 October and we must hope for a decisive majority and a solid strike which brings the civil service to a standstill.

 

Make no mistake about the effects of New Labour’s plan. Dispel from your mind the images from Yes Prime Minister of civil servants sitting around sipping tea and plotting to frustrate their minister’s latest idea. The staff who will be axed are those who deliver benefits like Jobseekers Allowance and Income Support, sort out pensions and winter fuel payments and calculate tax credits. This is a huge attack on the provision of public services.

 

In many areas it is already the case that when you enter an office to make a claim for benefit you get directed not to a person but a telephone. However, your claim form used to be processed by someone in the local office who could answer your questions. It is now likely to be sent off to a centre miles away. Equally, if you were looking for work you used to phone a jobcentre and speak to someone who knew the area and the local employers. Now we have Jobcentre Plus Direct call centres covering vast areas so that staff cannot possibly have the same detailed knowledge.

 

This is all being done in the name of efficiency, and of course the three main parties have all engaged in a public bidding war as to who will sack the most civil servants. But you cannot make the kind of cuts the Government is proposing without doing serious damage to the services provided. Some of the poorest communities in Britain will be hit by the planned office closures. And inevitably, those staff who are left after the axe falls will face increased workloads and possible relocation.

 

Against a backdrop of low pay and attacks on pension rights and sick leave, PCS members know what is at stake in this dispute. In the Department for Work and Pensions we have held three well supported 48 hour strikes over pay this year. Members have shown that they are prepared to take action and, in Mark Serwotka, we have a general secretary who is equally committed to the fight.

 

We need to take our campaign on to the streets and work with other public sector unions to put the defence of public services and jobs at the centre of political debate. Those who pledge themselves to improving services whilst taking a cleaver to those who deliver them must be exposed for the charlatans they most assuredly are.

 


 

With the agreement of the President and General Secretary unfortunately PCS is cancelling the lobby of the Labour Party Conference over the civil service job cuts as we cannot guarantee the safety of those participating, following the Countryside Alliance's decision to hold a demonstration at the same time.

We had looked for an alternative time but unfortunately none were available, particularly a time when we could guarantee the Countryside Alliance would not also be demonstrating. However, as an alternative members and those wishing to protest about the job cuts are encouraged to attend PCS's fringe meeting later on the Tuesday evening 28 September. PCS's fringe event is at 5.30 pm on the future of the civil service, in the Thistle Hotel.

We would like to thank all members, reps and staff who had been involved in organising the lobby and apologise for any inconvenience caused, but in the circumstances PCS believes we had no alternative.

 

 

September 2004

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