Around 500 members attended the meetings, with a number of staff who weren’t members joining the union in order to attend and discuss an issue which was deeply felt by everyone.
All members are being given a 0.5% increase. For members at the minimum of their pay range, this becomes 1% as the minimum will be raised by 0.5% before the pay rise takes effect. However, the fact that many members are being denied even the full 1% of the government’s mean-fisted pay cap tells you how tight HMRC are being.
The meetings heard how the value of wages for administrative grades had fallen by around 50% in the past two decades. The equivalent of an extra £8-10,000 a year. Meanwhile, the pay of senior civil servants over the same period was worth 200% more.
At the same time as pay is being squeezed, ideologically driven staff reductions mean members’ jobs have gotten harder and we have been expected to do more. Not only through the slavish obsession with getting things done fast even at the expense of getting the job right, but through the expectation that with the minimal of training staff can switch between entirely different work areas at the drop of a hat.
Debate at the meetings was lively, with considerable discussion over the tactics that could be used to challenge the pay cap.
Members raised the point that they were willing to take action if the union called it, but it had been over a year since they had seen action of any kind. There was a broad consensus that strikes could be effective, but that they had to be more than just token one day affairs. The idea of pulling out specific groups of workers indefinitely had appeal, ranging from suggestions to take out the entire contact centre network to finding smaller but vital and hard to replace sections which do specialist tasks.
Overtime bans were also hotly debated. There was a considerable difference of opinion within and across meetings as to whether there should be the kind of indefinite ban that had been seen in the past. However, there was more enthusiasm for short-term bans targeted at key periods and deadlines where HMRC relies heavily on overtime to get work done.
Also under scrutiny were the union’s national and group executive committees, with the feeling voiced in the majority of meetings that they weren’t doing enough about the situation. There were even suggestions of using the threat of a ‘subs strike’ as a way to give them a kick up the backside. While this was certainly a minority opinion, the idea that the branch and members would need to push for the union leadership to take a more proactive stance was certainly widespread.
Whatever happens next, as always Bootle Taxes will push to ensure that the voice of our members is heard and for our union to act decisively in a sustained fight back, rather than making token gestures as a protest with gaps of months or even years between actions. In any case, we will keep everyone informed as best we can.
Thanks to all who attended the meetings and a warm welcome to those new members of the union.