Today, in the Guardian, there is a very interesting article which uses official data in order to demonstrate that Civil Service Performance Management (PMR) is discriminatory against black and minority ethnic (BME), disabled and older staff.
This is something that a lot of us have known for quite some time. In PCS, it has been the subject of motions to Conference and much discussion when considering how to fight this pernicious system. In HMRC, the Assistant Group Secretary taking the lead on PMR made a point of claiming (PDF download) that the receipt of such data was a key concession behind us so rapidly and enthusiastically aborting the Conference-mandated policy of non-cooperation in 2013.
Therefore, it will come as no surprise that the source of this data is the trade union … Prospect.
Yes Prospect, who represent maybe a fifth of the number of civil servants that PCS does and who exist solely in professional and senior grades, are the ones to come forward and publish the data. They openly call the system “institutional discrimination” with possible equal pay implications, and make a positive case for change in a report jointly published with the senior civil service union FDA.
FDA, you may remember, also outflanked PCS on PMR when their ARC section took strike action on 14 February and PCS disgracefully told its members to cross picket lines – but express their solidarity on the way in!
Before we go on, it should be stated that Prospect’s position is far from a radical or militant one. They are making a case against PMR on the basis of retaining professionals, whose pay on the whole far outstrips that of frontline PCS members anyway, so that they don’t flee to the private sector. They are also not offering any kind of industrial response to this institutional discrimination.
Likewise, the ARC one day strike was hardly earth shattering and the recently leaked HMRC union busting paper (more on that elsewhere) suggests that they have since meekly been put in their place in the face of HMRC intransigence.
However, this doesn’t change the fact that what PCS has done in this area over the past two years has been woefully inadequate.
In 2013/14, resolutions at both Revenue & Customs Group Conference and national Conference instructed non-cooperation with PMR. At Group level, after a delay of some months, this policy was announced. It was then almost immediately downgraded from non-cooperation to requesting that meetings be deferred, and then scrapped altogether. At national level, there was not even this half-hearted attempt.
Then, in February 2014, ARC took strike action and PCS instructed its members to break that strike.
In 2014/15, things went no better. The motions passed at Group Conference were a lot woollier, but there was still an instruction to engage in non-cooperation and other industrial action tactics if no agreement was reached with HMRC by September. This, it was indicated, would form part of the escalating action short of strike in the Jobs & Staffing Campaign which followed two tranches of rolling strikes.
However, as we know, action short of strike was never escalated. It was pretty much ignored for several months before being called off for “talks without preconditions,” which was of course a colossal mistake.
The leaked paper stated that “there has been positive engagement with PCS on PMR for the whole of the current reporting year and with constructive input from the union into the Department’s After-Action Review in July.” How can the GEC credibly claim to be challenging this discriminatory system if our ‘engagement’ with it is praised as positive in a paper which explicitly condemns any and all opposition to its plans as wrong? Moreover, why is a leaked paper the only reason we know anything about this, including involvement in an After-Action Review?
What’s happening nationally? Well, your guess is as good as ours on that one, to be honest.
Where all of this leaves us is with an institutionally discriminatory Performance Management system now entrenched and reps on the ground left to pick up the pieces. Anecdotal evidence suggests a high volume of personal casework coming just from this system with untold stress to members and their reps alike.
This is not good enough. There is a time for positive engagement with management – and, credit where it’s due, what has been achieved on leave in PT Operations despite not fully meeting the terms of the Conference motion on the subject is an example of that. But when we are in dispute on an issue, it is more than reasonable to expect that we take some kind of action over that issue. At the very least, we might hope our union would go out and publicise what’s wrong and why we’re fighting it.
At this point, a slight indication that we actually do intend to fight it would be a long overdue start.