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Public sector pay: Tax rises or job losses threat

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TAX increases or job losses are the only way the States can afford cost-of-living pay rises for public-sector staff, the vice chairman of the States Employment Board has said as swathes of civil servants prepare to strike next week.

Civil Servant strike in Liberation Square Picture: DAVID FERGUSON.

Assistant Chief Minister Richard Buchanan added that there can be ‘no guarantees’ that further strikes won’t follow.

The ongoing pay dispute threatens to dominate the early months of 2019 with civil service unions angered by pay offers for 2018 and 2019 which fall below inflation rates.

Customs officials and teaching assistants are due to strike on Monday with other civil servants walking out the following day. A States spokeswoman said they were still waiting to hear from individual schools what impact the strike would have on schools.

Mr Buchanan said that he remained hopeful of reaching an agreement with the unions, but re-iterated the SEB stance that there is no money in the pot to increase the pay offers currently on the table.

‘Within the States budget, there is no money to fund pay rises,’ he said. ‘They are not one-off items – they are recurring costs that need to be properly budgeted for.

‘The States is expected to run our finances sensibly and sustainably. We are looking at a substantial deficit in 2020 and if we award pay rises which would increase that deficit then we would have to look at measures to cover that.

‘We would need tax rises or job losses to do that. Obviously, we don’t want to cut jobs so it would have to be some sort of increase to taxation. I hope we don’t have to get there.’

Ferry crossings to and from France are likely to be cancelled on Monday as Customs officers strike, while it is expected that some schools will be forced to close when teaching assistants walk out. The schools are in the process of contacting parents and were expected to announce which schools will be affected this morning.

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Mr Buchanan said that he hoped the ongoing States restructuring would alleviate some staff concerns and said the money spent on consultants to deliver the change programme was necessary to deliver the right outcomes.

He said: ‘In some cases it is not all about pay. The States is in the process of major reorganisation and a lot of staff feel threatened and worried about their jobs and I understand that.

‘I don’t think they look at their employer particularly favourably at the moment.

‘There are a lot of anomalies in the States structure and we are working to iron those out. We are looking at implementing equal pay for work of equal value.

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‘The States structure needed to be sorted out – we had 12 separate arms and a lot of duplication. It takes a lot of outside expertise to get that right and those people do cost money.

‘This is a symptom of reorganisation. People feel uncertain and there is a lot of pain to go through when we do something like that. Hopefully, staff will start to feel the benefits of the reorganisation in the new few months and feel less concerned and upset.’

Next week will be the second time in as many months that public sector staff have walked out in protest over the pay deals.

Mr Buchanan said the States were ‘working on getting contingency plans in place’ and that plans at the Ports as a result of Monday’s action are ‘being beefed up’.

‘There will be disruption in terms of sailings to and from France and I am disappointed that is going to be the case,’ he said.

‘In terms of people walking out of work on strike, the plans we have for Monday and Tuesday will be reiterated if we have another strike.

‘In terms of the civil service, there will inevitably be backlogs created in some areas. We don’t see that as being critical at the moment.’

The St Ouen Constable added that while disruption was ‘inevitable’, the emergency services would be ‘fully operational’.

Both Unite and JCSA Prospect have said that further civil servant strike action could follow should the States refuse to return to negotiations.

Customs and Immigration officers are due to strike all day on Monday while teaching assistants are planning to walk out between 11.30 am and 2 pm.

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