Today there will be a strike of some public sector workers over cuts in redundancy payments. I don’t expect the government to suddenly give in owing to industrial action. The strikers might be disappointed at how little impact there is from their inaction. I can understand employees’ frustration at unilateral changes to their terms and conditions. They are paying the price of their employer’s failure to run the public accounts sensibly and to motivate and lead staff professionally to get better results.
It is the culmination of bad handling of recruitment, training, retention and dismissal in Labour’s public sector. The strike reflects badly on both sides. A good employer should not need to make too many employees redundant, because he would not have over recruited in the first place. Redundancies can be an unhappy necessity in a business where demand suddenly collapses, often owing to government financial and economic mismangement of the economy. It should not be common in the public sector, where traditionally spending goes up every year regardless of economic performance. This year again spending will rise.
It demonstrates that the public sector still does not get how grave the national financial situation is. The government needs to sit down with representatives of all its staff and hammer out how the total pay bill is going to be cut. Will it be done by work sharing, by recruitment bans, by pay freezes, by selective closures and redundancies in non front line services, or some combination of all these? After years of overexpansion of numbers and pay we need something new to the public sector – a fall in the total pay bill. Industry has had to do this on a big scale in the recession, and has done so without large strikes and with substantial co-operation between managers and employees. When will the public sector wake up to what it needs to do?