15 November 2010
Members will be well aware that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced on 20th October his Comprehensive Spending Plans for the 4 year period commencing April 2011. In addition to measures which will impact severely on those who rely on social security benefits and young people seeking to further their education to third level the Coalition Government’s plans will remove between £4bn and £5bn from the Northern Ireland block grant over the 4 year period to March 2015. This is a staggering reduction in the amount of money available for the provision of public services in Northern Ireland and this reduction will not only impact on public services and public service jobs but it will also lead to a reduced demand in the economy generally and have a negative impact on private sector activity and employment as well. It is estimated that in Northern Ireland alone in the region of 30,000 public sector jobs could be lost as a result of these cuts and this will inevitably impact upon NIPSA members and their work colleagues.
The NI Executive is currently discussing setting a budget for Northern Ireland based on the Comprehensive Spending Plans allocation. Whatever is decided the budget will pose a major threat to jobs and services. The budget will be the subject of a public consultation exercise in Northern Ireland and further information will be provided to branches when the budget is announced. The indicators at the moment are that the Ministers in the NI Executive will agree to a budget despite public disagreement among the political parties.
In addition to the threat to jobs the Chancellor announced in June the introduction of a two year pay freeze for public servants earning over £21,000 per annum. This will have a detrimental impact on all public servants. The NJC Local Authorities Employers have already decided that there will be no increase on NJC pay rates in 2010 and have gone further than the Chancellor to impose a pay freeze for all staff including those earning below £21,000 per annum. Staff employed in the Health Service in Northern Ireland received a 2.25% increase in pay with effect from 1 April 2010 but this involved the implementation of the final year of the previously agreed 3 year pay deal. The two year pay freeze for staff employed in the Health and Social Care sector in Northern Ireland will cover 2011 and 2012.
Management of the NI Civil Service withdrew from the NI Civil Service Pay Agreement earlier in 2010 and staff in the NICS face the prospect of not only a pay freeze but the non payment of the annual step progression for satisfactory or better performers. NIPSA has taken steps to build up the pressure by encouraging members to write to their MLAs seeking fair treatment of civil servants in the 2010 pay round and we continue to press the political parties in Northern Ireland to support fair pay increases and the honouring of the annual progression for civil servants.
As previously notified the Government appointed John Hutton, former Minister at the Department of Work and Pensions with the last government, to head up a review of public sector pensions. The interim report from John Hutton has recommended an increase in employee pension contributions as well as a move away from final salary pension schemes. NIPSA has detailed Hutton’s proposals in earlier bulletins. He has now engaged in another round of consultation before he issues his final report to the coalition government but his recommendations will not be good news for public servants who face a further attack on their real take home pay and important terms and conditions of employment.
Building Opposition to the Attacks
NIPSA is committed to building the broadest possible opposition to the government’s austerity measures and we will be working with the other trade unions and in cooperation with our colleagues across England, Scotland and Wales to this end. We will be campaigning for the alternative to the present government’s policies and we must recognise that this will involve us in developing our opposition to the cuts over a period of a number of years.
The coalition government has already run into considerable controversy and difficulties around the reductions in housing benefits and the tuition fees issue. Across the UK trade unionists and local communities as well as those campaigning on behalf of the unemployed and the disabled are starting to increase the pressure on the government to reverse these disastrous policies. In Northern Ireland it is essential that we play our part in these campaigns. Irrespective of the limited powers of the NI Executive we must continue to build up popular pressure against the austerity measures. We are not in the business of assisting the NI Executive to implement the Westminster coalition government’s agenda.
Next Steps by NIPSA
In order to strengthen NIPSA’s capacity to protect jobs and services a number of immediate measures are being taken as follows:-
A meeting of NIPSA representatives, similar to the event which took place on 26 March this year in the Kings Hall Belfast, will be held in January 2011. Details of this event will be circulated to branches as soon as possible.
Further meetings of NIPSA representatives are being organised on a local geographical basis to establish local networks of NIPSA representatives so that any local campaigns against the cuts can be strengthened.
Meetings of Branch Organisers are being planned in a number of locations outside Belfast to assist branches with the recruitment of non trade union members into NIPSA.
A new anti cuts leaflet which will take account of the decisions announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be produced and branches will be asked to distribute this leaflet to both union members and members of the public. Further details of plans to distribute this leaflet will be notified to branches in due course.
Finally it is critical that all branch representatives, together with members of the NIPSA General Council and Executive Committees, ensure that the recruitment of staff into NIPSA membership is central to sustaining our campaign against the government’s austerity measures. The greater the percentage of staff who are members of NIPSA the greater our ability to speak and act on behalf of all public servants working in areas where NIPSA organises. While we will be campaigning against these cuts we will also be engaging with the various public sector employers to ensure our members interests are protected as effectively as possible. Increasing the strength of NIPSA in every workplace and office will help us do that.