Privatisation – it’s past time to fight dirty

HMRC_strike_protest_0_2Yesterday (8 May) HMRC has announced that private “outsourcing solutions” company Concentrix has been awarded a contract. They will be taking on Error and Fraud work in the Benefits & Credits directorate as part of a retrenchment of the department’s “adding capacity” trial.

For all the spin from directors, there should be no mistake that this is about privatisation and replacing jobs. Benefits & Credits is second only to Personal Tax in terms of the attacks levelled at it by HMRC senior management, and the fact is that a private company will be doing work while directly employed, permanent jobs are shed. While the department insists that this isn’t about replacing jobs, it ploughs ahead with doing exactly that.

But we should expect as much. The senior civil service is not impartial, put has time and again proven itself in thrall to the austerity agenda. Whenever they talk about challenging times and the supposed “need” for cutbacks, they are spouting pure ideology. When they contemplate the “efficiency” of private sector providers they are simply reciting the dogma of the market.

We know that there is an alternative to austerity. We also know that there is nothing inherently more efficient, cost effective or reliable about the private sector than the public sector. In all cases, it is the working class doing the heavy lifting and any difference boils down to whether the bosses are forced to resort to treating us like human beings or can bind our hands to the grindstone and squeeze every last drop out of us at the cost of our health and wellbeing. This isn’t about the efficient private sector versus the bloated and sluggish public sector, but about cheaper, more casualised and more easily exploited labour in the absence of workplace organisation.

Unfortunately, while the fact that we are in a union does put us in a better position than those who are not, PCS in HMRC doesn’t have the best record when it comes to fighting privatisation.

It is constantly asserted that we beat privatisation in Contact Centres. In fact, the fight against it was brought to a halt by the Enabling Agreement and the privatisation trial then ongoing was allowed to continue to the end of its tenure without further disruption. Meanwhile, the trial in Benefits & Credits which led directly to Concentrix getting their HMRC contract faced no opposition whatsoever and PCS members got minimal information about what was happening.

The outsourcing of post handling to EDM Group isn’t yet off the ground, so it’s too early to say how that will be responded to. But so far it appears to be just another demand in the Jobs & Staffing Campaign. No doubt the Benefits & Credits outsourcing will have the same fate. All well and good in that it’s part of the agenda we’re taking action over, but also at risk of being lost behind seemingly bigger issues – or worse, frustrated by another Enabling Agreement.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The union already has a policy for dealing with privatisation that could prove extremely effective from Conference last year. It just has to put it into practice.

It’s long past time that we fought dirty against the privateers. Alongside strikes and on the job action against our employer, we need to be taking direct action against those who want to take over our work. That means disrupting the running and affecting the profit of companies like EDM Group and Concentrix while demanding that they pull out of the contracts they have signed up to.

No amount of fine words and logical arguments will stop businesses in pursuit of profit. What matters is how costly we can make it for them to do that when it goes against our demands. Direct action gets the goods, so it’s time we started taking it!

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