Strikers’ threat: ‘Listen, or face more industrial action’
ENTIRE offices were emptied as hundreds of civil servants turned out in Liberation Square yesterday morning to strike as the ongoing pay dispute escalated, with warnings that the demonstration was just ‘a taster’.
Customs officers, pathologists, radiographers and engineers were among the dozens of employee groups who walked out for two hours to protest in the pouring rain after receiving below-inflation pay rises for years.
A States spokeswoman confirmed that no staff at all turned up in the Passport or Customs and Immigration offices until the strike concluded at 11 am. Customers also had to postpone driving and road-theory tests due to staff shortages at Driver and Vehicles Standards and a number of States schools and nurseries had to close temporarily.
Gathering in Liberation Square, protestors were addressed by JCSA Prospect negotiations officer Bob King, who said that plans were in place to ‘ramp up’ industrial action. Politicians including Deputy Geoff Southern and other union officials were also present.
Passing cars and lorries showed their backing for the estimated 700 to 800 protestors by beeping their horns as they drove past, while emergency service vehicles, such as ambulances and police vans, turned on their sirens in apparent support of their fellow public-sector workers.
Mr King said that the union was ‘very pleased’ with the turnout and that employees, such as the pathology laboratory workers, joined in to make their voices heard.
He said: ‘This was only a two-hour strike. Somebody referred to it as a “taster session”. I prefer to think of it as bringing attention to the dispute.
‘If nobody is willing to listen to us, then we will engage in a programme of industrial action, probably over the Christmas period and into the new year.’
He added: ‘We will be ramping up the industrial action and calling a series of one- and two-day strikes. All we want to do is sit down and talk to someone about this, but we are serious. We are not mucking about.’
Mr King said he expected matters to ‘worsen’ as the States implemented stage two of its target operating model reform programme next year, under which many staff may be asked to reapply for their jobs.
‘They have stood up in the States Assembly and told people that they don’t want to say how many people they might make redundant because they are going to scare people,’ he said.
‘But it’s probably going to be 800. This has been handled incredibly poorly. I don’t know whether it is deliberate or a competence shortfall, but somebody does not know what they are doing.’
He added that he believed the target operating model was ‘outdated’ and that Jersey handled industrial relations like it was the 1980s.
Stalwart union representative Nick Corbel, of Unite, said that he had never seen industrial action of this scale from civil servants.
‘They have been really frustrated by the lack of meaningful negotiations with the States Employment Board,’ he said.
‘They thought that civil servants wouldn’t rise up and challenge the employer – but they have had enough.’
Deputy Geoff Southern, whose proposal to secure more funding for public-sector pay rises was defeated in the States (see page 2), said he had never seen a strike of this magnitude among civil servants.
‘We have threatened to strike before but the government has always seen sense and they went back to the negotiating table,’ he said.
‘But this is the first time that we have gone on strike. It is not something that these workers want to do – it is something that they feel they have to do.’
Assistant Treasury Minister Lindsay Ash attended the gathering and said that it was ‘important’ to listen to people’s grievances.
‘I have spoken to lots of people and they feel undervalued. It is unfortunate and something we would like to address, but change does create uncertainty,’ he said.
‘They want pay increases but we have to make sure they are sensibly funded. We can’t, in two year’s time, say that we can’t afford this and end up making people redundant.’
Meanwhile, the Royal College of Nursing announced that it was planning to ballot its members on whether to accept a revised pay award of 3.1% for 2018 and 3% for 2019.
The ballot closes on 7 January and the union plans to hold a branch meeting two days later.