by Mark Serwotka, General Secretary PCS



Introduction
Working with the TUC and other unions, we are to stepping-up our public campaigning over the union-busting attacks by Conservative ministers on our union. We are asking all members to take part in this campaign and branches to involve campaign groups and other union branches in the campaign.

If elected, the Tories will end check-off, and undermine democratic rights to strike. We need to publicly commit political parties to maintain union rights, and build a campaign to defend union rights from the Tories.

The Branch Briefing includes on-line and paper resources for you to use to get your members involved in the campaign. We are also asking all branches to approach trades councils, other unions and campaign groups to publicise the campaign.

Background
The union faces the greatest challenge it has ever faced. The current coalition government has been carrying out an ideologically inspired onslaught on public spending and public services, with the size of the civil service being reduced by unprecedented numbers. At the same time the government is attacking PCS as one of their most vocal critics in the trade union movement.

Rather than negotiate with us, conservative ministers in the Cabinet Office and across government are attempting to undermine and marginalise us. They have launched a campaign of union busting at the very heart of government, and among its own workforce.

A number of related initiatives have taken place, which are detailed below.

PCS is determined to resist this onslaught and campaign against the threats to our very existence.

The trade union movement represents millions of voters and their families and communities. We all need strong unions and PCS is determined to put our rights at the centre of the 2015 general election.

The actions of the conservative government show how they will attack union rights if they form a majority government after the general election. Their actions also give the green light to employers to go on the offensive against unions across the UK.

Ending of check off
In December 2013 the Cabinet Office asked departments to review check off, a system for collecting union subscriptions from salary which has been in place for decades. Now departments covering 150,000 PCS members are planning to end check off before the general election.

It means the union has to sign all members up to alternative payment methods or risk a haemorrhage of income. For PCS this means contacting hundreds of thousands of members in thousands of workplaces and is a huge logistical task.

Check off is an important internationally recognised trade union right, its withdrawal only ever used by anti-union governments to undermine union membership and finance. By withdrawing check off from its own employees, the government is sending a message to all unions and all employers that using check off to undermine unions is reasonable.

Cuts to facility time
In 2012 the Cabinet Office asked all departments to review facility time. They also issued guidance which asked departments to cut facility time by 60%, to the statutory minimum, and reduce the numbers of union reps on 100% facility time. Every department has now implemented cuts in facility time. In HMRC leading elected union reps have been denied any facility time and told at short notice to return to official work.

Union busting in HMRC
There has been a significant change in direction of industrial relations in HMRC as the department attempts to marginalise the union.

Management have unilaterally withdrawn from talks aimed at ending a dispute about jobs and staffing. They have cut facility time of our leading union representatives and agreed to meet with a new organisation calling itself the Revenue and Customs Trade Union which is attempting to set itself up as an alternative to PCS within HMRC.

We have recently seen a secret management paper which states that its ‘business interests’ are best served by an approach that ‘reduces the influence of the unions’. The paper outlines plans to ‘marginalise PCS’ and refuse to negotiate with us, including the current dispute on jobs and staffing; reduce the time our reps can spend helping members, resolving complaints and negotiating with management; encourage staff away from PCS to join a staff association; damage ‘PCS’s organising capability’ and take measures targeted at key union activists.

HMRC have also started consultation with a view to giving three months notice of withdrawing check off. HMRC is a non-ministerial department and therefore not subject to the same ministerial pressure as other departments. As recently as July they publicly assured staff in HMRC that they had no interest in ending check off. This had all changed a few months later.

Undermining industrial relations
There has been a virtual ending of national level negotiations in the civil service. The cabinet office issues guidance to departments on issues like facility time but refuses to have meaningful discussions. Civil service pay is decided by the Treasury but PCS representatives are only allowed negotiations at departmental level. On other issues, negotiations may take place at departmental level but it is in reality simply on how to implement ministerial decisions. This prevents PCS challenging decisions on key issues and undermines industrial relations.

PCS campaigning
Taken together these actions are an attempt to union-bust at the heart of government, and in particular to undermine PCS, a union which has consistently opposed cuts to jobs, pay, pensions and resisted privatisation.

The union is initiating a campaign to counter the union-busting attack on the union by the government.

At national level we will be doing what we can to put pressure on government ministers to retain check off and trade union facilities and union recognition. We will be using what political pressure we have to try to weaken Cabinet Office influence with other ministers and departments and we will be looking to increase the ability of permanent secretaries to withstand political influence on recognition.

In the run up to the general election we will be raising the profile of union rights as an issue in the election with Labour and the other political parties. It forms a central part of our lobbying material we will be issuing to branches later in the month. We will be talking to the Labour frontbench about the campaign to get them on board and make statements supporting the reinstatement of check off and industrial relations. We will be meeting with Liberal Democrat MP’s on union busting to see what pressure they can put on their coalition partners. When check off was first threatened the Liberal Democrats were supportive of the union’s position.

Action by branches
· You can take part in the campaign [link to campaign] by writing to your MP. Please sign the e-action http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/union-busting-at-the-heart-of-government

· Circulate this information to all members (see attached letter to MP Annex A and model motion Annex B]

· Circulate the attached letter to union branches, trades councils and campaign groups (accompanied with letter to MP Annex A and model motion Annex B)

· Put the model motion to your own branch

· We will be circulating further campaign materials for use over the coming months


Mark Serwotka, General Secretary PCS

 

Letter to Union members, Trades Councils and Community Groups


Dear

I am writing to let you know about the Union Busting Campaign and seek your support.
PCS is currently working with the TUC and other unions, to step-up our public campaigning over the union-busting attacks by Conservative ministers on our union. We are asking all members to take part in this campaign, we also want to involve other union members, trades councils and community campaign groups in the campaign.

If elected, the Tories will end check-off, and undermine democratic rights to strike. We need to publicly commit political parties to maintain union rights, and build a campaign to defend union rights from the Conservatives.

PCS union faces the greatest challenge it has ever faced. The current coalition government has been carrying out an ideologically inspired onslaught on public spending and public services, with the size of the civil service being reduced by unprecedented numbers. At the same time the government is attacking PCS as one of their most vocal critics in the trade union movement.

Rather than negotiate with us, conservative ministers in the Cabinet Office and across government are attempting to undermine and marginalise us. They have launched a campaign of union busting at the very heart of government, and among its own workforce.

A number of related initiatives have taken place, such as;
· Ending of Check-Off

· Cuts in facility time

· Union busting in HM Revenue and Customs

· Constant undermining industrial relations

PCS is determined to resist this onslaught and campaign against the threats to our very existence. The trade union movement represents millions of voters and their families and communities. We all need strong unions and PCS is determined to put our rights at the centre of the 2015 general election.

The actions of the conservative government show how they will attack union rights if they form a majority government after the general election. Their actions also give the green light to employers to go on the offensive against unions across the UK.

Action
We are asking all trades councils, other unions and community campaign groups to publicise the campaign. We have included a model letter for you to send to your MP and a model motion which you can use at branch meetings.
You can also take part in the campaign by completing the e-action online http://action.pcs.org.uk/page/speakout/union-busting-at-the-heart-of-government
For more information on this campaign, please visit PCS Campaigns webpage http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/campaigns/send-an-eaction/index.cfm

In Solidarity

 

Annex A - Union Busting model letter to your MP

Dear

I am writing to draw your attention to the actions of senior management in government departments, acting in accordance with the instructions of Cabinet Office Ministers, to undermine independent trade unionism in the civil service.

The UK civil service has recognised independent trade unions for nearly a century. The recognition of independent representatives of employees is an important part of our democracy. The example set by government in its treatment of its own employees is particularly important as it sends a message to all other employers about how they should behave.
Other parts of the public sector may well be targeted for anti-trade union activities should Ministers be successful in the civil service.

Led by the Cabinet Office, government departments have cut facility time by 60%, and many are trying to end “check-off”, the decade’s old method through which employers collect union subscriptions direct from a members’ salary. Large departments have given civil service unions just three months notice of the withdrawal of check-off, in an attempt to undermine union membership and finance.

In HM Revenue and Customs a leaked management memo showed that there were secret plans to marginalise PCS as part of a deeply concerning political approach to industrial relations. Recently, the Home Office served an injunction on PCS on the spurious grounds of national security to prevent the union publicising the effects of government cuts in the UK Border Agency.

These are not the actions of a good employer, but are politically inspired attempts to undermine independent trade unions at the very heart of government.

I am writing to you to ask for your support for independent trade unions, adequate time for union reps to represent their members, and the retention of the check-off facility.
I would also ask you, as my local MP, to write to Frances Maude MP, Minister for the Cabinet Office, and ask that he withdraws his call for government departments to end check-off.

 

Annex B – Model Motion

Union busting at the heart of government

This branch condemns the union-busting tactics of the government to its own employees in the civil service.

Led by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, government departments have cut facility time by 60%, and are trying to end “check-off” – the decade’s old method through which employers collect union subscriptions direct from a member’s salary. These actions are an attempt to undermine the organisation, membership and finances of the civil service unions and in particular the largest union, PCS.
This branch notes that PCS is being forced to sign over to direct debit more than 150,000 of its members in just a few months – which risks leaving members without union protection and the union losing millions in funds. No UK union has faced such a mammoth task in such a short timeframe.

In HM Revenue and Customs a leaked management memo showed that there are plans to marginalise PCS, cut negotiators’ facility time and to establish a rival staff association.

Taken together these actions are an attempt to union-bust at the heart of government, and in particular to undermine PCS, a union that has consistently opposed cuts to jobs, pay and pensions, and resisted privatisation.

This branch believes that that if the government succeeds in this attempt at union busting, it will give the green light to public and private sector employers to remove check-off arrangements.

Therefore this branch resolves:

· to give full support to PCS in its campaign against union busting and agrees ask all members to email their MP in support of their campaign;


· to call on the TUC and all affiliates to give full support to the PCS campaign against union busting; and


· to call on the Labour Party to publicly pledge to re-instate check-off in the civil service if elected and to legislate for a statutory right to for union members to have their subscriptions deducted through salary by check-off