Article from the November 2005 issue of the Socialist
newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
Civil Service Pay - It's time to fight!
By Carmel Gates, Chair, Civil Service Group NIPSA (Personal Capacity)
IT'S TIME to fight! That's the message coming from thousands of civil servants, across Northern Ireland, who are living on poverty wages. After three years of insulting pay offers, there has been an explosion of anger against a pay offer that really amounts to a further cut in actual pay rates.
Peter Hain, the Secretary of State, feigned shock when he learned that the increase in the minimum wage to £5.05 per hour from 1 October meant that thousand of civil servants would be below the legal limit. It beggars belief that it was only some last minute fancy footwork by payroll workers that saved the government from breaking its own laws.
To add insult to injury, civil servants are well aware that if they worked in Peter Hain's other fiefdom, Wales, where he is also Secretary of State, they would have been earning more than £6 per hour since April 2004, for doing exactly the same job.
The 2005 pay offer to NI civil servants is 0.20%. Not even a quarter percent! Since 2002, many civil servants have received a total of 2% increases. Over that same period, inflation has gone up by almost 9.5%, which means that workers would need a 7.5% increase this year, just to stand still and that's without taking account of the 19% hike in domestic rates and the spiralling cost of gas, petrol, oil and everything else.
Workers are now saying "Enough is enough!" and are prepared to fight. If this government is allowed to impose a pay increase of 0.2% this year, then next year we will witness even bigger pay cuts. But civil servants have learned the lessons of the last dispute - the clear message is that neither selective action nor a few days of strike action will be enough to win.
Workers are now preparing themselves for the only action that can beat this government - an all-out strike.
An all-out strike has never happened in the Northern Ireland Civil Service and would bring the country to a standstill. It will be a difficult decision for many workers to make, but many are already contemplating the worst and have made enquiries about deferring mortgage and loan payments in preparation for the battle. Many have already made up their minds and although they cannot afford to lose pay through strike action, they are also very clear that they cannot afford not to fight.
If we are forced to take all out action, an appeal must go out to the rest of the trade union movement to give all possible support, including solidarity action if necessary. By standing together, united and determined, we can force the government to back down, just as they did over pensions.
"I'm treated like a glorified skivvy"
Clare, who has worked in the Child Support Agency as an administrative assistant for nearly four years and earns £5.12 an hour (seven pence more than the minimum wage!), spoke to The Socialist.
Her initial reaction to the pay "offer" which would give her a paltry £23 per month, was unprintable.
She described the "offer" as "an insult. I am already treated badly as an AA as I am at the lowest grade in the Civil Service and bosses treat you as a glorified skivvy. The pay offer for AAs' is lower than for the rest of the grades and this from the government that claims it wants to abolish low pay!
"Even my daughter who has a Saturday job in a photograph shop gets paid more than me. I have to do a part time job at the weekend just to make ends meet."
Commenting on the likely strike action, she said: "This time we need to learn the lessons of the last strike which the union made a mess of. People wanted to go out on all out industrial action then and didn't get the chance. We need much more determined leadership this time."