Reps and members of PCS Bootle Taxes Branch have been picketing outside both the Triad and Litherland House on Saturdays for several months now. This is as part of the campaign to defend jobs and services, and specifically to ask members to support the union’s overtime ban.
The following Q&A with reps from the branch explains what the dispute is about, the importance of the picket line, and how members can get involved.
We are currently in dispute with HMRC about a number of things.
The overtime ban in place is from the ballot taken over the attack on your rights to the compensation agreed in your contract, if the employer takes your job from you. That’s not just to do with redundancy its also if you are sacked because you are sick. Which, with the new absence management procedure that’s been put in place, is even more important.
But it is also part of our wider campaign against attacks on our pay, our pensions, our terms and conditions and our jobs.
There are many reasons why an overtime ban is seen as an effective means of action.
Recent announcements by Senior figures within HMRC only reinforce the department’s apparent view that they need to bring the NPS [National Insurance and PAYE Service, see here] system up to speed before they meet their “obligations” under the Comprehensive Spending Review of somewhere in the region of 15,000 job cuts.
By doing overtime, staff are simply helping the employer to speed up the process of cutting those jobs or reaching what has been quoted as the “cliff-face”.
This has become more apparent for members in Bootle in the past couple of weeks. The department has announced that they are cutting the service we provide in the Enquiry Centre within the Triad. This has meant members of our Branch have recently been interviewed to see if they can remain in their current jobs or they have to move elsewhere.
2. How well is it being adhered to?
Only a small, ever decreasing number of people are doing the overtime. About 90% of members within our Branch are adhering to the ban.
3. What’s the point of a picket?
The picket line is an attempt to persuade those who are considering defying the ban (i.e. crossing the picket line) not to, whilst at the same time showing the solidarity of those members adhering to the democratic vote that overwhelmingly supports our campaign.
4. Is it true you can only have six people on a picket line?
No. It is not true. The figure of six pickets comes from guidelines, not law, and the event is far more lively and successful when we have more people there. As well as reps and members, we have had support from the public and from outside organisations.
The more support we show the more it may persuade the small number who aren’t supporting the action that they should. Speak to a rep if you’re interested in joining the picket line.
5. What reasons are people giving for crossing?
Some of the reasons given, when we have asked those who are seemingly rushing to the “cliff-face” like lemmings, are as weak as you would expect, because there is no validation. Answers that are being given aren’t original. Here are some examples;
“I could do with the money”
Everybody in our Branch could do with the money! But this should be achieved through us getting a decent wage for the job we already do.
“Job cuts are going to happen anyway”
United action by members has stopped lots of things happening before. Although you can never guarantee that, if you defend yourself from attack, you will win, you can guarantee that if you don’t you will lose.
“I didn’t get a temporary promotion so why should I”
This reason was given as reason in answer to a request to support our colleagues in the Enquiry Centre. Doing overtime will only help the employer in not having to make any promotions.
“This is a holiday in Thailand for me”
Though only ever when in groups, as they don’t have the courage of their convictions individually, some of those doing overtime have flaunted the fact that they have more money than those not. They have boasted of holidays abroad, expensive new phones and generally of having more disposable income.
But this comes at a price. Others who understand what’s at stake are losing respect for their colleagues doing overtime, and it is far from just the reps on the picket line asking the hard questions.
When you see a colleague doing overtime, ask them: is their new iPhone really worth your job?
6. If members are suffering hardship, given the current climate, but don’t want to break the ban, how can the union help them?
The PCS have a hardship fund that members can apply to for help and the Bootle Taxes Branch is setting up its own hardship fund. Approach a rep if you need more advice.
It is already having a successful effect.
Because members are supporting the ban, the department is having to listen to PCS’s argument that they need to find other, more acceptable ways of using the funding it has to increase resources and deliver a decent public service.
An overtime ban supported by the members has been successful before. With the current situation the department is in, and the bad publicity it is receiving, there is every chance that this ban will be successful too.
8. Anything to add?
Yes, loads. But there is probably not enough room on this website so I will confine it to the following:
Members of Bootle Taxes Branch are to be congratulated for the action we are taking. It is only through united action that we can stop the unprecedented attacks we all face.