I read it on the intranet: a reply to HMRC Chief Executive Lin Homer

2013-03-20 09.46.32-1

The picket line: which side are you on?

On the HM Revenue & Customs intranet today, Chief Executive Lin Homer has written to staff about the week of industrial action which commences on Monday. This message is a clear (if poorly constructed) attempt at anti-strike propaganda, on a medium where PCS has no right of reply.

Lin’s opening gambit is as follows:

As you probably know, this is part of its national public sector campaign and many of the issues raised in the dispute are largely outside HMRC’s remit.

PCS is targeting a small number of government departments, including HMRC, in order to cause significant disruption to customers.

After all your hard work to restore our service levels, I feel disappointed that you are being asked to bear the burden of industrial action, and loss of earnings, in pursuit of an essentially political campaign across the whole Civil Service.

This passage misrepresents key aspects of the PCS campaign, and so there are a couple of points to be made here.

Firstly, although the campaign is a civil service-wide one, HMRC bosses do have a clear remit in many of the issues. The department is implementing the most extreme set of changes to terms and conditions based on the Cabinet Office directive, for example. It is also loyally enacting all of the attacks on civil servants that come from this government.

This cannot be brushed off, especially at a time when HMRC management are more and more taking the same attitude to the union as the government: they won’t talk. See the imposition of annual leave percentages in Personal Tax or the unilateral change of contracts over Saturday working in Contact Centres (PDF download) as examples of this.

Second, PCS is targeting all government departments. The fact that it is doing so in a rolling programme rather than all at once in a single day of action doesn’t change this fact. Far from HMRC staff having to “bear the burden,” we are in fact following on from disruptive action across the Home Office, DEFRA, the National Trust and elsewhere. The National Executive Committee’s guiding principle in this campaign is equality of sacrifice.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, it should be pointed out that disruption is the aim of industrial action. We’re withdrawing our labour in order to underline how much the employer relies on us. It doesn’t really work if that doesn’t cause significant disruption, does it now?

Lin then points out that PCS have raised the issue of job cuts to do with Enquiry Centre closures. She claims that “in reality, our public consultation has only just closed and a decision won’t be made until January 2014, after the conclusion of the pilot.” This is a poor attempt to sidestep the fact that the future of 1,300 staff is now uncertain, and that the department has used questionable costings to push towards the result they want: the closure of all Enquiry Centres. As so often nowadays, the consultation is a sham.

This particular point is worth addressing:

In fact, since it was created just over two years ago, our redeployment pool has found new roles within HMRC for more than a thousand people. We’ve also been able to offer a huge number of new opportunities – making more than 1,500 promotions between November 2012 and April 2013 alone. That’s on top of the extensive training and learning programmes that we offer.

We have been – and will continue to be – a responsible employer.

Whilst some staff have been promoted or redeployed, many others have lost their jobs. Since 2005, the headcount in HMRC has fallen from 97,000 staff to 66,000 in 2010 and it is expected to be slashed to 55,000 by 2015.

Even with the influx of fixed term staff and temporary increases of hours for part time staff, the cuts are showing in how under-resourced we are. Restrictions in leave, forcing Contact Centre staff to work 1 in 4 Saturdays instead of 1 in 8 and the continued use of overtime all point to a department trying to justify cutting staff whilst desperately needing more. The existence of the redeployment pool doesn’t change that or make the jobs of 1,300 Enquiry Centre staff any safer.

All of which underlines the need for action now. The government will not engage, the employer is engaging less and less and the attacks we face are on the increase. We have two choices: either stand firm on jobs, pay, pensions and terms and conditions, or do nothing and watch things get progressively worse.

The decision you make on whether to strike is, as Lin says, “yours and yours alone.” But we would add that if you decide to strike then you stand as part of a collective and stand a fighting chance of winning. If you decide not to, then you truly are alone – you stand with the employer by helping to undermine the strike action and the only guarantee is that they will not return the favour.

Which side are you on? Choose wisely.

Read PCS Euston Tower Branch’s response to Lin’s message here.


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