Friday, 22 February 2013

A double threat to the future of PCS

All the Civil Service unions are facing threats of severe cuts to the amount of Facility Time that their reps can use during official hours. Negotiations are still continuing but today a letter was circulated outlining the DWP's decision on facilities for attending Conference which turned out to be quite harsh:

I can confirm that NEC members who attend National Conference, and GEC members who attend Group Conference, in their capacity as committee members may use paid facility time for that purpose providing they have prior approval from their line manager and have sufficient facility time available to cover their attendance.
Paid facility time will not be allowed for elected delegates or trainee delegates to attend National or Group Conference. Just to be clear, I am not saying that their attendance is not permitted. If they wish to attend conference, they can apply for annual leave; flexi leave or unpaid special leave.
However, any absence must be approved in advance and meet the requirements of the business. Decisions to allow time off will be made locally.

This differs considerably from the arrangements in other Departments like the Home Office where the decision was much more favourable. Their Management wrote:

You will be aware that we have an existing facilities agreement which makes provision for union members to be allowed special leave to attend conferences as delegates or trainee delegates. Without prejudice to our future discussions around trade union facilities, I can confirm that under this agreement members would be permitted special leave to attend conferences in May 2013

There is a caveat to this however: 

The agreement limits the paid TUA time available annually to any individual as 15 days (40 days for NEC members) and you should therefore make GEC members and delegates aware that paid time off to attend conference would count against this TUA allowance.

According to comments made by Fran Heathcote at the North Yorkshire Branch AGM Management claim that since PCS did not sign up to the ERS (back in 2003 apparently!) it means that they do not have to give notice. According to NEC member Ian Albert:

I had not seen the letter but had heard that this was probably DWP's position. There is still work going on in Group and nationally to achieve a better negotiated position.

As you say, their argument bizarrely is that since we (PCS) didn't sign up to the last ERS framework some years ago they don't have to give the 6 months' notice. But in practise they have formally withdrawn and written to say this, and I think giving the appropriate notice.

There is a mixed economy out there on who is getting time and who isn't for this year's conference. It's completely unfair and unsatisfactory.

The future of how PCS operates is clearly going to be difficult as Francis Maude continues his attack on the unions by insisting that all TUA (trade union only) duties will have a default position of being unpaid. This will put many current reps off of undertaking such duties, especially if there is no alternative but to do them during work time. Many women in particular will not be able to attend evening meetings if they have child care responsibilities. 

The knock on effect will be to drive away many of the people who do trade union work who are not politically motivated and just "do their bit" for members. In turn this will leave the PCS more and more in the hands of the political activist class that already dominate the union bureaucracy. As Dougie Mckinlay a PCS rep from Scotland pointed out about the forthcoming PCS Conference:

The most worrying thing I can see is that the NEC and GEC will be voting through whatever they want and that'll suit them as nobody will be there to question what they're doing.

In time PCS could become nothing more than a front for the extremists of the Socialist Party and their SWP allies. This will of course further isolate PCS and more importantly the interests of it's members from political reality and weaken our ability to defend members. 

It has never been more important to change the way PCS is run by electing a new mainstream leadership. I urge members to support and vote for the 4themembers Group in the elections later this year. Only by returning PCS to the political mainstream can we hope to reclaim PCS for its' members. 

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