The recent dispute at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) saw the
biggest Civil Service strike in 13 years, with more than 40,000 staff walking
out in a dispute over pay and the introduction of a new performance management
system. Mike Berry finds out what Sir Richard Mottram, permanent secretary at
the DWP, has to say about the dispute.
Why are staff unhappy with the pay deal being offered?
I think they’re unhappy because it’s been misrepresented. Essentially, we
offered pay increases of, on average, something over 5 per cent. What we’ve
offered is being continually misrepresented by the Public and Commercial
Services (PCS) union as a much lower offer, so I think staff don’t appreciate
the value of what’s on the table.
How do you counter PCS claims that DWP staff are on ‘poverty pay’?
We have made a pay offer which is particularly targeted at the lowest paid
frontline staff – worth between 7 per cent and 8 per cent for these employees.
Therefore, we agree with the unions that there is an issue about low pay. The
PCS has then misrepresented our offer as being worth 2.6 per cent, when that
offer only relates to people at the top of their pay scale.
Second, we’re realistic in saying that we recruit and retain people in the
wider economy, so if we need people to work in contact centres, our aim as an
employer has to be ‘what do we need to pay in order to recruit and retain
Are you not concerned that nearly a third of your workforce walked out?
Obviously, I don’t want anybody to be on strike. The issues for us as the
management of the department are really about two things – to get across to
staff the value of the pay offer and to alleviate staff concerns surrounding
the new performance and development system.
Is this dispute about poor communication between management and staff?
The essence of this dispute is about one of our trade unions having
completely unrealistic expectations about the pay market in this country. I
think we’re caught up in a PCS campaign in two directions. One, the union wants
to restore national pay bargaining across the Civil Service. Second, it argues
that Civil Service pay is being artificially constrained and its wants to
breach those limits.
What measures did the DWP have in place to minimise disruption?
We made arrangements as far as we could to keep offices open. Only 146
Jobcentre Plus offices out of more than 1,000 were closed. We took steps to
ensure that people could get the payments they needed. We greatly regret that
strike action took place because it disrupted our service to our customers.
What does the new performance system entail?
We’re introducing a new system under which each individual’s performance
will be assessed alongside everybody else. Then, essentially, they will be
placed into one of four categories – a pretty standard system. Staff are quite
nervous because they haven’t experienced it before.
What role can management play now?
I think it’s a leadership issue. Certainly in relation to the performance
and development system, we need to put over more clearly what it’s about and
why staff need not worry over the next few weeks.
What happens next in resolving the dispute?
We have said to the PCS that we’re happy to go on talking to reach an agreed
settlement, but the reality is that we’ve already stretched the envelope of
available money. We are introducing the new performance and development system,
so we have to have a discussion that is realistic. We hope there is a change in
the union’s stance.
To hear Mottram’s view on a proposed 18,000 DWP jobs losses over the next
three years, go to www.personneltoday.com/goto/22541
For further coverage of the strike, go to www.personneltoday.com/goto/22243