GGCA May Day Message

By Wendy Cumming, GGCA President

Thinking back to May Day 2020, our first May Day of lockdowns and social distancing, it is wonderful to hope that, by May Day next year, it might be possible to hold a public event and properly celebrate Workers’ Day. The effect that Covid-19 has had on our lives cannot be overstated, especially for those who have lost loved ones or who are still struggling with their health as a result of having contracted the virus. Nevertheless, the excellent roll out of the vaccination program and the sharp decline in Covid-19 cases has led to a collective sigh of relief, as we can now look to the future with greater hope.

As we begin to emerge from the public health crisis, it is becoming increasingly necessary to review where we are as regards the effect of Covid-19 on the public purse, and more importantly for trade unions, how this is going to impact the world of work. Within the private sector, the numerous collective redundancy consultation processes that have been undertaken this year are undoubtedly the most tragic consequence of the pandemic from an industrial relations perspective. The trade union inclusion within CELAC and the discussions that led to the BEAT legislation means that we are well aware of the expenditure incurred to deal with Covid-19, as well as the loss of revenue suffered by the public purse throughout this financial year. Needless to say, at the GGCA, we are bracing ourselves for this year’s Budget Speech, and hoping that we shall not be moving into an era of austerity that will have a deeply prejudicial effect on our membership.

Our concern on this matter is especially heightened given that the GGCA’s fundamental purpose is the representation of clerical civil service grades. This workforce, in particular, has fallen foul of Minister Bossano’s rather haphazard attempts to create public efficiencies (with a very worrying, exclusive focus on achieving efficiencies by disadvantaging the clerical grades). Indeed, Minister Bossano’s beady eye has been focused on the clerical grades well before Brexit and the pandemic - as evidenced by the 2015 suspension of the Administrative Assistant recruitment process. This was followed by the 2018 pay cap on the cost of living raise for senior public servants (which was in breach of a 2015 manifesto commitment and disproportionally affected clerical grades). It is important to note that this pay cap was implemented in a time of plenty - in the same Budget Speech introducing the pay cap, an £80 million surplus was also announced. The only conclusion one can draw from this is that the pay cap was meant as an arbitrary and unmerited punishment for senior civil servants. This measure is consistent with the reduction of manning levels within the clerical grades - as of July/August 2020 there were 72 vacant Administrative Officer posts, and 13 vacant Administrative Assistant posts. That means that the workload of 85 officers was being absorbed by the existing staff, as there were no longer any supply workers engaged in the public service. The civil servants carrying this extra load, uncomplaining, are the same officers who are constantly labelled as ‘inefficient’!

This follows on to the most recent incursion into the clerical grades - the attempt to downgrade more than 52 vacant Administrative Officer posts (unilaterally, without consultation, and without any evaluation process or job inspections taking place). Apart from this being a clear breach of the GOG commitment to maintain the established complement as per 2011 levels, it amounts to a clear targeting of the entry level grades with no clear justification or even arguments put forward to support this action. Whilst we were very relieved that this measure was reversed when we raised the matter with the Chief Minister (in his capacity as Minister for Industrial Relations), we shudder to think about out what’s coming up for the clerical grades after this year’s Budget speech.

To return to the wider issue of our depleted public purse, what’s the most sensible and fairest way forward? It is clear that a responsible and carefully considered trade union position must be taken to see us through this economic downturn. Certainly, as demonstrated by CELAC, engaging and consulting with all stakeholders is the best way for the GOG to ensure informed decision-making. It would be beneficial for all trade unions to be engaged with collectively and consulted on any economically motivated changes to the public sector. In that way, we can ensure that austerity measures are avoided, that the impact on the workforce is minimised, and that, at the very least, any measures to be undertaken are implemented fairly across the board and are not designed to disadvantage a particular group or grades within the public service.

Wishing you all a healthy, safe and happy Workers’ Day,