‘Over 250,000 of our members have turned out on strike today, the biggest strike in the civil service since 1987,’ PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said yesterday, at the start of a 48-hour national strike.
‘The government thinks it is cheaper to sack our members, when they provide vital, front line services,’ he continued.
‘PCS represents over 90 per cent of the grades who have lost jobs in the last four years.
‘We represent the lowest paid people and they’re angry.
‘They’re asking what is a contract worth if the government can rip it up and not even allow MPs to vote on that.’
Pickets were out in force at Job Centres, courts and government departments in London and across the country yesterday.
A rally was staged by striking PCS members in Norwich.
Dave Seagrave, who works at the Job Centre in Norwich and was at the PCS rally, said ‘We’re on strike today for lots of reasons but the main reason is support for the civil service compensation scheme.
‘What that means is the government are in the process of cutting the compensation scheme massively, with a view to a massive head count reduction of another 100,000 jobs.
‘It’s all about bailing out the system after paying out for the bankers and again we’re paying for it.
‘It’s not the rich paying for it, it is us paying for it.
‘We have got HMRC offices around the country that are closing as we speak when there is something like £170 billion of uncollected taxes from the rich.
‘This is not about paying extra it is about paying taxes that are due, that they are supposed to pay like the rest of us.
‘So again it is all about protecting jobs, services, and pay and conditions and for fighting against us paying for the bailing out of the banking system.’
On the picket line at Hayes Job Centre, PCS health and safety rep Colin Simons told News Line ‘We have to defend the civil service compensation scheme, which is the package for if you are made redundant.
‘They are moving to privatise our work and we know full well they’re planning massive job cuts.’
Jas Sanga said ‘It would be a lot more beneficial if the whole public sector came out together.
‘Although we don’t want to cause any major disruption for services that are needed for life and death reasons, like hospitals, people involved in other front-line services, like transport and council services, should all come out together.
‘Just imagine what it would be like!
‘A general strike should strongly be considered, instead of these individual days.’
At Southall Job Centre, PCS rep Barry Murphy said ‘We are determined to defend our compensation scheme in the case of compulsory redundancy.
‘What the Labour government is actually doing is paving the way for the Tories to get rid of us.
‘I’ve always believed there should be solidarity through the whole trade union movement.’
PCS member Kathy said ‘It’s hard enough now and it’s going to get worse.
‘We need to stand together as one.’
Her colleague, Kannan Vivekanandan, added ‘There should be an all-out strike before the election so that the working class can take the power.’
There was a picket line at Deptford Job Centre, where two thirds of the staff were out on strike and Tony Reay, the PCS rep, said ‘The Tories want to privatise the whole of Jobcentre Plus, Labour want to privatise it bit by bit.
‘The Deptford Job Centre was threatened with closure in March last year, but it was reprieved after we fought to keep it open.
‘Private companies say we’re too expensive to take on so it would be easier to privatise by cutting the compensation scheme.
‘But services will suffer.’
At Lewisham police station, the strike involved PCSOs, traffic wardens and civilian staff.
Paul Edward, PCS Met Group south-east branch secretary, was on the picket line there and said ‘Here, as far as they’re concerned, it would be cheaper to make workers redundant by cutting the compensation scheme.
‘Big cuts are being planned in the force.
‘Everyone relies on public services.
‘Officers should be on the streets and not doing our job.
‘In all we have 10,000 members amongst the civilian staff, admin and PCSOs.
‘We’ve had a lot of support from the public.’
He added ‘I’m disappointed that the TUC has failed to call out all trade unions affected by these cuts in the CSCS (Civil Service Compensation Scheme).
‘This will lead to job cuts.’
He concluded ‘The PCS believe redundancy notices will start to come out in April.’
At a lively picket outside Millbank Tower in Westminster, pickets handed out leaflets to passers-by.
Chair of the Ombudsman’s branch, Derek Relph, told News Line ‘We have 150 members taking part in today’s action.
‘We are one of two branches of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman’s Service and deal with complaints about government departments and in the health service.
‘All of our members who are paid over £20,000 a year are facing a cut of a third to the redundancy which they would have been entitled to, and those members who are over 50 who were due to receive an enhanced pension, would have that cut.
‘The government are intending to impose these changes by the beginning of April so the PCS will be considering what further action to take by the end of this week.’
Patricia Doran, a PCS site rep on the picket line at King’s House in Harrow, said ‘We are fighting the government’s plans to save £500 million.
‘The strike has been well supported we have a strongly unionised office at Harrow.’
He added ‘We should unite with all the other public sector workers who are also under attack from the government.
‘We have made a coalition with the CWU – but look how they have been shafted.’
Steve Russell, fellow PCS picket, said ‘The unions must organise and strike together for one day.
‘They should do it the week before the election.’
At Archway Tower in north London, Austin Harney, PCS assistant branch secretary, said ‘We’ve stopped a lot of people going into work.
‘I’ve heard good feedback from the PCS headquarters about the strike and I’ve always believed there should be a public sector alliance strike.
‘We’ve had support from the RMT, the NUT, Islington Trades Council and local MP Jeremy Corbyn.’
He said that the PCS are balloting members about putting up trade union candidates at the next election.
It would be the first trade union to officially stand candidates, he said.
At least 30 PCS civil servants picketed the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square to defend redundancy pay and oppose sackings.
Graham Eve, the PCS branch organiser for the National Gallery workers called ‘Warders’, told News Line ‘This is a national dispute on the government reducing the amount of compensation for redundancy which will make it easier for them to make people redundant.
‘We need to secure jobs for the generation coming up. They have to have jobs to go to.
‘With the huge unemployment, without jobs it will cost money because they will have to draw unemployment benefit.
‘The National Gallery is in a double dispute.
‘There have been four walkouts in the last month alone.
‘We are trying to get the London Living Wage for all those working in the Gallery.
‘The vast majority are earning less than the £7.60 that Boris Johnson himself supports.
‘We can’t keep pace with the current spiralling cost of living.
‘ “Warders’’ do not have enough money at the end of the month to pay the bills, particularly when we are living in London, one of the most expensive cities.’
Sue Catton, PCS branch secretary of the DWP East London branch, was on the picket line at Jubilee House in Stratford, which houses HM Revenue and Customs and an office of the Department for Work and Pensions.
She said the reason why the government wants to slash redundancy payments is ‘so they can get rid of jobs on the cheap’ and also prepare the way for big job cuts.
On the picket line at Wood Green Job Centre, PCS branch organiser, Andy Lawson, told News Line ‘We’re out today because of the cuts in compensation scheme which the government is trying to implement.
‘It’s a recipe for mass job cuts and mass privatisation on the cheap.
‘Seventy-five per cent of members have stayed out, with a small amount of scabbing.
‘Management will not be able to run the service today.
‘A CWU member did not deliver post when we asked him not to the cross picket line.
‘The government is intent on making massive cuts to the public sector and this would represent the decimation of public services across the board.
‘We’re out to defend our jobs but also the services that the poorest and most vulnerable members of society rely upon.
‘The government has over a trillion pounds to throw at the bankers yet it wants to tear up the terms and conditions of hundreds of thousands of hard working civil servants.’