|Volume 42 Number 18, June 2, 2012||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers' Weekly Internet Edition: Article Index :
Government Attacks On Public Sector Pay:
Building the Resistance that Gives First Place to the Well-being of All
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To look at the proposals for the Coalition’s legislative programme for 2012-13 outlined in the Queen’s Speech is to wonder what it has to do with the movement for the alternative, for serving the general interests of society and solving its problems. Rather it addresses the interests of the owners of capital. Because it is based on this outlook, all the problems facing society are bound to intensify over the coming period. It is not far off the mark in these circumstances to call for a future that works, rather than one based on irrelevance and irrationality, as represented by the Queen’s Speech.
The Finance Bill 2012-13 (Bill 1) was originally introduced in the 2010-12 session of Parliament, having had its second reading then, and so is now being debated in Committee. It is the customary bill dealing with the rates of tax and the raising of public revenue. However, it makes no recognition of a modern conception of tax, based on the respective claims of government and people on the added-value that working people create. Even within its own parameters, it does not address the question of tax justice, whereby the burden of tax should fall on corporations and not the individual, and small businesses should be taxed less than the monopolies. It does no more than scratch the surface of tax avoidance, and does not address the issue of tax havens. It does not redress the injustice of VAT, which proportionately falls heavily on the poor.
The Financial Services Bill 2012-13 (Bill 2) was also introduced in the 2010-12 session. It has now been taken to the House of Lords (as HL Bill 25), and receives its second reading there on June 11. The House of Commons Research Paper states: “The focus of this Bill is to establish a new framework for financial regulation in the United Kingdom. Many reasons have been put forward as to why the financial crisis, which started in 2008, happened. The Coalition Government believes that regulatory failure played some part. The Bill puts the Bank of England back at the centre of the supervisory system; establishes institutions for ‘macro-prudential regulation’ and two new regulators that concentrate on the prudential regulation of large institutions and business conduct respectively.”
The Queen’s Speech alluded to a Banking Reform Bill in this connection also, to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking.
The premise of these Bills is that the City of London should remain the world’s financial centre, after the debacle of 2008 and the consequent bail-out of the banks. Rather than tackling the issue of the banks being a law unto themselves, and that the state has been acting to safeguard the interests of the financial oligarchy, the proposed legislation is based on instituting the “macro-prudential” tools of regulation, including giving the Chancellor of the Exchequer pre-eminence during a financial crisis.
The Civil Aviation Bill 2012-13 (Bill 3) is yet another bill introduced in the 2010-12 session. It has been taken to the House of Lords (as HL Bill 26) and receives its second reading there on June 13. The basic premise of the Bill is that of increased competition in the aviation industry, including among airports, and the consequent issue of a strengthened regulatory body, and the reduced responsibility of government, under the guise of putting “passengers at the heart of airport operations”.
The Local Government Finance Bill 2012-13 (Bill 4) is the fourth bill to have been introduced in the 2010-12 session. It is Bill 24 in the House of Lords, due to receive its second reading on June 12. The Communities and Local Government website states that the Bill “takes forward proposals designed to encourage local economic growth, reduce the financial deficit and drive decentralisation of control over local government finance”. Put in this way, its measures can be seen as being part of the neo-liberal agenda, which includes austerity measures to “reduce the financial deficit”.
Bill 5 is the Defamation Bill, amending the law of defamation. It is due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons on June 12. It extends to England and Wales only. The Draft Bill was first published in March 2011. The bill would introduce new statutory defences of “truth and honest opinion” to replace the common law defences of “justification and fair comment”.
Bill 6 is the Electoral Registration and Administration Bill 2012-13. It already received its second reading in the Commons on May 23, and the date for the Committee stage is yet to be announced. The Bill does not address enshrining the fundamental right to elect and be elected. Rather, it focuses on the individual registration of electors as opposed to household registration. The opposition amendment stated that “the Bill speeds up the introduction of IER [individual electoral registration], and downgrades the Electoral Commission’s role, with the result that there will be no independent arbitrator with the power to halt the process if it is deemed to have resulted in a sharp drop in registration levels; notes that the 2015 parliamentary boundary changes will be based on the new electoral register which will potentially be inaccurate, risking illegitimate new constituency boundaries; believes the proposals would mean the young, the poor, ethnic minorities and disabled people would face an increased risk of being unregistered and thus excluded from a range of social and civic functions; further regards the proposals as flawed as they risk making the list from which juries are drawn less representative; concludes that because the evaluation of the second round of data-matching pilots will not be published until early 2013 an assessment of the likely completeness of the register is in effect prevented; and deplores the fact that the Government has not published secondary legislation and an implementation plan for the introduction of IER.”
The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill 2012-13 (Bill 7) is due to receive its second Commons reading on June 11. This bill primarily deals with employment law with the justification that restricting the rights of workers is the way to make business successful in terms of being competitive. It further increases the disequilibrium between the workers and the owners of capital. It facilitates the sacking of workers and makes it more difficult for them to seek redress, for example on the basis of race or gender discrimination. It attacks the industrial tribunal system by dispensing with the current model of a three-person panel, including a trade union representative, in favour of a judge sitting alone to consider claims for unfair dismissal. Sacked workers would have to access a dispute resolution service prior to approaching a tribunal and so-called “vexatious claims” are to be weeded out. Fewer health and safety inspections are envisaged under the guise of lifting the burden of red tape from business.
The Bill therefore is attacking the exercise of workers’ rights in the name of making business competitive in the global market. But this completely ignores that running the economy for the public good is necessary to begin to solve the entrenched economic crisis.
(To be continued, dealing with the Bills yet to be published and those commencing in the House of Lords)
Government Attacks On Public Sector Pay:
Unison Health Conference: Our NHS Our FutureFollowing the three-year pay freeze for most public sector workers, the Coalition government aims to change the current national pay system of public sector workers to local, or regional, pay. In the Budget this March, the Chancellor announced that the government wanted to move towards “more local, market-facing pay” in the public sector. This followed a “request” by the government at the end of 2011 for four of the public sector pay review bodies to look at how public sector pay could be made “more responsive to local labour markets”. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne wrote at that time to the four pay review bodies, covering over 1.5 million employees, that are currently conducting these reviews: The Prison Service Pay Review Body, School Teachers' Pay Review Body, NHS Pay Review Body and Senior Salaries Review Body. These letters are posted on the Office of Manpower’s Economic website. The pay review bodies are due to report their findings and make their recommendations on July 17. These recommendations are not binding on the government but are supposed to inform their proposal for public sector pay when the three-year pay freeze comes to an end in 2014.
Firstly, according to figures of the ONS Labour force survey (summer 2011-TUC Report) a 1% decrease in public sector pay would reduce the pay of public sector workers by £1.7 billion overall in Britain. This when public sector workers have faced three years of pay freezes, whilst official CPI inflation has been running as high as 5.2% in this period. Secondly, the proposal of the government to move towards “more local, market-facing pay” in the public sector is yet another attempt to drive down the pay of public service workers which in turn will have a negative impact on the pay of all workers.
The fact is that it is not only the public sector which has national pay rates. Many multi-site private monopolies, such as some big retailers that operate all over Britain, have to pay national rates of pay to at least match public sector pay in the labour market where they operate. The ruling elite has systematically over decades wrecked the manufacturing base leaving public services and large monopoly retailers to form the basis of the economy in many parts of the country. Instead of addressing the real issues in building a modern economy that meets the needs of all, the government pretends that it is about “how private sector employers determine wages for staff in different areas of the country” (George Osborne’s letter to the Pay Review Body – NHS). In addition, where local pay is low all over Britain, it is generally in areas where the big monopolies operate as small businesses, or franchises, or where small businesses have to compete with the big monopolies and the huge costs they have to pay in an economy that serves the interests of the big monopolies and financial sector. In this small business sector, the government itself drives down wages to the “minimum” wage whilst making huge handouts of funds from the public treasury to big business and financial institutions.
This is the nature of government's austerity programme that can be summed as paying the rich in all spheres of the economy, whether it be manufacturing, public services, pensions, or pay and conditions. It is implemented regardless of the consequences to the well-being of society, its economy, its public services, or the pay and conditions of the working people who live and work in the economy. The working class movement is organising its broad resistance against these moves by the government. The opposition to the plan to introduce local pay and conditions is growing.
There are many things that workers should be aware of in building their resistance to these attacks. Foremost, the Workers’ Opposition must demand that it is working people who should have first claim on the national social product. An alternative direction for the economy is necessary which has the aim of providing for the well-being of all and not the interests of the big monopolies. This is the starting point of their programme and outlook.
Looking at the experience in the NHS, they will have to take into account that in pushing the move to local pay the government has learnt from the experience of Margaret Thatcher's government, which introduced local pay bargaining into the NHS as an alternative to national pay and conditions. But at that time this did not succeed. The government has also learnt from the experience of the previous Labour government whose Health Acts gave the NHS Foundation Trusts the right to negotiate pay and conditions locally. This has rarely been taken up because of the resources involved for local Foundation Trusts to negotiate pay and conditions and the liabilities coming from claims for equal pay and the fact that trade unions have successfully challenged them at Tribunals.
George Osborne's letter to the four pay review bodies shows that he wants them to recommend “whether and how the new approach could be delivered within the national framework” and “whether proposals should apply to existing staff, or just new entrants”. In other words, to make the norm of regional and local pay a part of the national agreement and to try and divide all public sector workers over pay and conditions as they are trying to divide them over pensions so that they railroad through their anti-worker measures.
Also, NHS Foundation Trusts are now looking to co-operate with each other to set their own pay and conditions under the cover of the new Health and Social Care Act 2012. Such an Act has no legitimacy and the working class and people have the right to resist and defend their interests. Building the resistance that gives first place to the well-being of all and fighting for measures that limit the rights of the monopolies and financial oligarchy is the strategy that the Workers’ Opposition must take up. This entails the workers involved strengthening their unity, and being conscious that safeguarding their organised character is key, with the watchword that an injury to one is an injury to all. The attempt by the government to break that unity of the workers, to render them as individuals being forced to fend for themselves in order to undermine resistance to the anti-social offensive, must not succeed.
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