by Caroline Colebrook
JOB CENTRES and benefit offices across Britain faced severe disruption last week as thousands of civil servants took strike action for 48 hours in protest at the imposition of a three-year below-inflation pay rise.
Members of the PCS civil service union employed in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Child Support Agency are furious that the pay deal will give them a two-per cent pay rise this year, no pay rise at all the next year and a mere one per cent in the third year.
When inflation is taken into account this adds up to a serious pay cut for around 120,000 workers – most of whom are already on low pay. The lowest paid will find their wages just 24 pence above the minimum wage.
The union pointed out that DWP management had enough money to guarantee every member of staff an increase in line with inflation this year; instead they chose to squander £39 million on bonuses.
PCS estimates that over 85 per cent of members took part in the first day of the strike, Thursday 6th December.
Reports on the strike indicated that despite the weather picket lines have been well supported, offices were forced to close across the country.
There was little or no service was being offered to the public in those offices that remained open as senior managers struggled to offer some form of service.
Telephone contact centres were also hit with callers failing to get through and a number of sites playing recorded emergency messages.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka commented: “This is a dispute the Government and the department could have avoided, but instead they have provoked staff into strike action by imposing poverty pay on a workforce that has already experienced massive job cuts.
“It is completely unacceptable that some of the lowest paid in the civil service are receiving increases that take their pay to just 24 pence above the minimum wage and that staff who have stuck with the DWP through thick and thin are expected to receive nothing next year.
“Staff will not sit back and be allowed to be used by the government as an anti-inflationary tool, especially when there is no evidence to suggest that their pay fuels inflation.
“The Government and the department need to understand the impact that imposing a real terms pay cut has on the morale of staff. The staff at the forefront of delivering the lowest unemployment in a generation deserve better and its time the department and the government recognised this by paying them fairly.”
The union is maintaining a work to rule.