OVER 200 civil servants gave a standing ovation to colleague Sheila Coote at a lunchtime rally in Westminster last Friday, as she vowed to resist compulsory privatisation of her job at the newly-formed DCSF (schools ministry).
‘They’re treating us like fixtures and fittings,’ she told the rally organised by the PCS trade union, after leading a march by staff from the DCSF, DEFRA and other government departments.
‘We won’t let you sell our jobs,’ the marchers sang.
Ten workers at the DCSF are threatened with the sack, if they don’t accept compulsory transfer to a private sector employer, and up to 300 civil servants at DEFRA (Department of the Environment) face the same treatment, yesterday’s rally was told.
‘They’ve not just picked a fight with these 10 staff, they’ve picked a fight with the PCS and its 320,000 members,’ said PCS Vice-President Kevin Kelly.
Earlier, Sheila Coote told News Line: ‘We feel we’ve been treated really unfairly and unjustly.
‘They have given us no option: if we don’t transfer to this private company, they say we will be resigning ourselves.
‘Under normal circumstances, if there’s a change in government department you are given the choice – covered by Cabinet Office guidelines – to stay with your department if you wish to do so.’
John Jordan, another PCS member, said: ‘What’s happening in the civil service is very bad. We need our jobs.
‘I think we should all join together – postmen, railworkers, hospitals, all these different sections – and have a big one-day strike, maybe more than one, and see what will happen.’
Shirley, also a PCS member at the DCSF, said: ‘Because we work in a different building which they have handed back to the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions), they now say we’ve got to go with a private company.’
Elaine Scholar said: ‘We are disappointed the way we’ve been treated.
‘Our members want to carry on their jobs as civil servants and it just seems they’re not being given that option.
‘You can see the strength of feeling.’
PCS assistant group secretary at DEFRA, told News Line:
‘This has been imposed at DEFRA without any consultation with the unions at all.
‘Jobs are being privatised and we know full well that privatisation leads to worse pay and conditions.
‘Anything that cuts into their profits, they’re going to cut back on.
‘In-house services are the best way to ensure quality services and accountability to the tax payer and to maintain the terms and conditions of civil servants.’
He said there were about 140 people facing compulsory outsourcing in DEFRA, ‘but that could increase to 300, and there are 10 at the DCSF who have been told they’re being forcibly privatised.’
Dean Ford, another PCS member at DEFRA, said: ‘It’s absolutely ridiculous. The whole privatisation project is going to end up costing DEFRA more and pay and conditions will deteriorate for staff.
‘They promised TUPE (transfer with the same terms and conditions), but that never lasts for more than a year. We’ve seen it before.’
He warned: ‘The government is selling off the civil service to private companies piece by piece.
‘We could have a situation where the whole civil service, except a few top nobs, is run by the private sector.
‘I think we should all be pulling together, all the public sector unions and other unions too where their members are being attacked.
‘I see no difference between New Labour and what the Tories were doing. They’re carrying on the same thing.’
Trevor Smith, a member of the PCS branch executive committee at DEFRA, said: ‘Our facilities management division is being privatised and because we’re public servants we don’t want privatisation.
‘It will eventually affect our terms, conditions, salaries, pensions and holidays in the end.
‘It’s not only happening in DEFRA, it’s happening in other offices as well, and now we’ve heard the Fire Brigades Union may be coming out on strike in support of colleagues who are having their pension rights taken away.
‘We’ve got the same issues as the CWU (postal workers’ union) on pay.’
Joel Hirsch, PCS secretary at the IPSG (passport service), said: ‘What’s happening at these departments is happening all over the civil service and the public sector and we can win this dispute.
We’re looking forward to going on strike with postal workers and others in the public sector who are fighting government attacks.’
At last Friday’s rally, PCS DEFRA official Matt Wells declared ‘complete solidarity with members in the DCSF’.
He added: ‘Both groups have got ballots for industrial action.
‘At DEFRA we’re at the start of our campaign.’
He said the decision to outsource jobs had been taken ‘on the basis of a dodgy dossier’.
‘An in-house bid wasn’t considered,’ he claimed.
‘Decisions about people’s futures have been made on the basis of a deeply-flawed report.
‘Private employers will fight tooth and nail against anything that eats into their profit margins,’ Wells warned.
He said that management should at least suspend the outsourcing process, in order ‘to consider an in-house bid’, adding: ‘Management are treating us with contempt.
‘We are seeking legal advice on putting in complaints to the European Commission.’
PCS national executive member Marianne Lloyd demanded ‘no compulsory transfer against people’s will into the private sector’.
She urged everyone: ‘Go away resolved to carry on this fight against compulsory transfer’ and praised the support staff threatened with privatisation for sticking together ‘in the true traditions of the trade union movement’.
PCS Vice-President Kevin Kelly said: ‘This unjust, unfair, disgraceful situation needs rectifying.
‘Management made a massive mistake when they embarked on this issue.
‘They have not just picked a fight with these ten staff, but with the whole PCS and its 320,000 members.
‘An injury to one is an injury to all.
‘We will win this campaign and ensure every single one of our members has the decent pay and conditions that they deserve.’
Fraternal greetings were sent to the rally from the PCS at the Food Standards Agency and from the union’s general secretary Mark Serwotka, who was attending a rally in Bradford against office closures.
Ruth Serwotka, PCS, Learning and Skills Council, said that it was the same management that had threatened to sack 2,000 staff at the Department for Education and Skills, before the reorganisation of departments.
‘We had one of the best results the union has had in a ballot and got people out on strike and people working to rule,’ she said.
She said the DFES and Learning and Skills Council were ‘forced to change course’.
She said that: ‘We agreed there would be no compulsory redundancies’, but adding that 1,000 redundancies were agreed on a voluntary basis.
‘Support this campaign and take it forwards,’ she said, quoting a Public Accounts Committee report which said that the job cuts in the civil service and the public sector ‘are unsustainable’.
She also condemned privatisation in the NHS which she said had led to the situation in Kent where police were considering prosecutions over the deaths of patients from the C.difficile bug.
The whole audience rose to applaud Sheila Coote, the final speaker.
She said: ‘We have been your support staff for many years and when we needed you most you were there for us.
‘The Department has treated us unfairly and with disrespect.
‘All we’ve asked is to be treated the same as other civil servants.
‘We are only the tip of the iceberg and if they get away with it, you can take for granted what is to follow.
‘We don’t even get the cover of COSOP (Cabinet Office guidelines) because we are being leapfrogged over to a private company.’
She said management would never treat senior grades in this manner.
She urged: ‘Stop privatisation, forced redundancies and forced transfers.
‘In this fight that’s with us, we’ve been informed that we work for a building, not for a department, and we go with the building – Caxton House – or so they think.
‘We’re being treated like the fixtures and fittings of Caxton House!’