Civil Service Reform

A leaked letter from the Cabinet Office to the HR Directors of all Civil Service Departments has brought home the scope and scale of the government’s attacks on workers terms and conditions. Plans include lengthening the working week, cutting leave
entitlements and making cuts to a whole raft of employment benefits.

Plans to amend terms and conditions were first revealed with the publication of the Civil Service Reform Plan back in June. Back then, the government clearly outlined a plan for mass privatisation, worse conditions and faster sackings.

However, what wasn’t expected was the timescale: terms and conditions are expected to be
ready for the bonfire by 31 December 2012. Documents attached to the letter reveal that the government’s “benchmarks” include slashing annual leave by five days, removing or “rebranding” privilege leave, dramatically reducing occupational sick pay and even adding contractual “mobility” clauses that could force civil servants to move anywhere in the country and to any department as the government requires.

Though the letter insists that the civil service “continues to be a good employer,” the intent is clear. By seeking to cut and roll back working conditions on the basis that they might not be available elsewhere, the government is clearly engaging a race to the bottom.

Anger

Already, the leak has provoked widespread anger from civil servants. Following the imposition of a pay freeze and being forced to work longer, pay more and get less for their pension – not to mention the threat of thousands of job cuts hanging over their heads – this is the final straw for many. Even non-union members and previously un-politicised workers are up in arms over this calculated attack.

The question now is whether that anger can be galvanised into the kind of action that will stop these changes. For this to happen, there is a sense of urgency by which we must begin fighting back now.

Union response

PCS is so far the only civil service union to respond to the changes. They have vowed to “talk to other unions” and “raise the issue” in parliament, but little else. There is a strong chance that they will hold fire until 16th November – the deadline for departments to produce draft proposals – in the hope of negotiating.

However, the Cabinet Office has already set clear benchmarks on the reductions it expects. We know that significant reductions in our hard won terms and conditions are coming. There should be no negotiation on this.

A rank-and-file response

Rather than waiting for the changes to start falling into place, this attack must be resisted now. When the union calls action, we must be prepared to support it, but equally we should be prepared to take action even where it doesn’t.

The Civil Service Rank & File Network has been established for that very purpose. We are calling for a campaign, starting immediately, with the aim of stopping these reforms in their tracks.

Our demands are simple:

• No increase in the working week;
• No reductions in leave entitlements, including parental and special leave;
• Scrap all plans to change terms and conditions to the detriment of staff;
• Reverse all such changes already implemented (e.g. HMRC’s attendance management policy).

We call on all civil servants affected, whether in a union or not, to join our fight. An injury to one is an injury to all, and together we can resist these attacks on our working lives.

Read the leaked documents in full here.

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