PCS, the Civil Service Union is at the forefront of the fight against job cuts in the public sector (it has been estimated that the Tories plan to axe 1 million public sector jobs by 2019). In the last few weeks, PCS members in the Passport Office and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs have been on strike in staffing disputes www.pcs.org.uk. Taxes go uncollected and passports are late through the Tories austerity policies.
The Government has been slashing Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) jobs over the past few years and wants to cut a further 10% of staff this year preparing it for privatisation. As part of PCS’s national staffing campaign against these cuts, George Thompson, PCS Branch Secretary in North East London issued a press release about job cuts in offices in Waltham Forest (covering the constituency of Iain Duncan Smith, DWP Minister). At the same time John Cryer MP wrote to Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP District manager echoing PCS concerns. DWP disciplined George for a press article in the Waltham Forest Guardian; http://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/wfnews/10547937.print/
Management charged George with gross misconduct and issued him a two year final written warning. Clearly there is nothing in the press article to merit such a penalty. Bizarrely DWP have argued it was wrong for George to comment in the article on how services would be impacted by their cuts. Also they penalised him for mentioning the level of job cuts. They believe that it is reasonable for them to say to the Union they will cut staffing by almost a third in an office and then expect PCS representatives to keep quiet about it or else face potential dismissal. The PCS National Conference passed unanimously a motion in support of George, as delegates saw management’s approach is a threat to all PCS representative’s rights to raise members concerns in the media.
PCS believe that this warning should be immediately withdrawn. Union reps are allowed to speak to the press about issues that affect union members. The information George shared about staffing was routinely shared with the Union and never marked “restricted” or “confidential”.
Several months before George’s press article, East London management were embarrassed by the leak of an e-mail from Walthamstow JCP about league tables concerning the number of sanctions in each office in London and Home Counties Group. The email was not leaked by PCS or George. It may explain, however, management’s reaction to the article about staff cuts and the action taken against George. The District Manager intervened during George’s case stating he could not trust PCS in East London with sensitive or confidential information and had to be more restrictive in what he shared as he could ‘no longer guarantee that it won’t be leaked to a newspaper or used against the Department’.
The Government is trying to gag Union representatives from speaking out for their members and defending public services. In another case in Waltham Forest, Charlotte Monro, the Branch Chair of UNISON at Whipps Cross Hospital was dismissed for raising concerns about NHS cuts – see http://www.unisonwalthamforest.org.uk/2014/06/16/unison-whipps-cross-hospital/
PCS is backing George’s Employment Tribunal in November. It has also launched a petition demanding DWP withdraw George’s warning. This petition has already been signed by Len McCluskey (General Secretary of UNITE), Caroline Lucas MP, Diane Abbott MP, John McDonnell MP etc. Please add your name online at http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/news_and_events/pcs_comment/index.cfm/defend-pcs-reps-right-to-campaign-against-austerity
Fight Public sector job cuts! Stop the Tories attacks on Union representatives!
George is a supporter of Left Unity and Socialist Resistance.