Whilst casually chatting with a member of another civil service union, I was asked if I had heard that the Group Executive Committee in the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) had been suspended by the National Executive Committee (NEC), for agreeing to a "no strike deal with Management". I immediately contacted Ian Albert, one of the leading members of the NEC who simply advised me by e-mail that "this was not true". When pressed further his reply was more than intriguing:
There are sensitive, complex and continuing discussions with management, the Group and the NEC on this. It is just not appropriate for me to comment at this time.
Undeterred I went and asked David Tattam President of the PCS SOCA group for further information and what a web of intrigue the Serwotka leadership have indulged in.
The background to this is the implementation of the Police, Crime and Courts Act 2012, due to be become law in October 2013. Sections 12 and 13 of the Act legislate for the removal of the right to strike for those civil servants who have all three powers of arrest (about 80% of SOCAs membership) and therefore discussions had been taking place on the substantive issue.
The PCS SOCA Group Executive Committee (GEC) had been aware of the situation since before last years conference season and their delegates had discussed the issue in Emergency Motion 2 (EM2) at their meeting. The GEC took legal advice to see if there was a legal challenge, but since the Human Rights Act allows such things when it comes to matters of "national security" and that their members would now be covered by a Pay Review Body (same as the Police) the removal of strike rights would be lawful.
The new Director and Deputy Directors of SOCA are in fact both ex Chief Constables (of Warwickshire and Norfolk respectively) and all members of their Executive will be ex-police officers the direction of the new "super-SOCA" is quite clear. In effect SOCA is clearly subsumed by the Home Secretary into the Police Force. There would remain a small proportion of SOCA staff who would have had the right to strike preserved but so small as to have no useful effect that the next step for the Group would be the implementation of any such "deal".
In formal meetings the question of "Disputes Resolution Model" were raised with Management were raised an they initially said they would "go away and think about one". The PCS representatives had however come armed with their own proposals based on the deals reached with trade unionists in GCHQ and the Police Federation. This was the proposal taken away by and examined (by a very surprised) HR!
Management returned with proposals which were accepted by the PCS team. Apparently when it was shown to NEC member Dominic McFadden it was described as "brilliant", but since this is PCS we are talking about it didn't take long for this to go "pear-shaped". Although PCS lawyers went over this and gave the go-ahead, such a proposal of a no strike deal went down like a ton of bricks when Serwotka & co found out.
The far-left led NEC rejected the deal and Mark Serwotka absolutely refused to accept it. Utilising the assistance of left-wing MP John McDonnell obstruction was attempted in Parliament (but failed) and the Labour Party has apparently pledged to put a policy of reversal in it's next Manifesto. The TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady has also spoken out against the removal of the right to strike in SOCA. In the mean time the Parliamentary Bill has now gained "Royal Ascent".
As a result the situation for PCS members in SOCA has become confusing with a dispute now in progress between the PCS leadership and the SOCA GEC. The Group Executive (unanimously) had prepared to go to a ballot and issued a statement to members which has been countered by the Full Time Officer (FTO) who (acting on Serwotkas behalf) has issued a counter statement instructing members the GEC one is not valid.
There was a pre-planned meeting for SOCA reps in Birmingham which went ahead but found PCS Vice President and Socialist Party "fixer" John McInally turning up uninvited with NEC member Michael Derbyshire in tow. They urged reps to wait for the emergency NEC which has now taken place.
PCS's members in SOCA are not happy and membership has started dropping. The fact the NEC won't even allow a ballot giving the members a chance to decide has inflamed opinion, hence a large number of resignations. The deal reached includes an extra 2 days annual leave a year over the next 8 years as "compensation" as the GEC felt it could not accept a financial incentive as this would naturally be seen as "blood money" in sections of the TUC.
The situation currently remains fluid and the secretiveness of Serwotka (who has declared he will act "swiftly and decisively") and his supporters suggests that a purge may be on the cards after next Thursday when the PCS election results are declared. This issue is already in the public domain within the SOCA group and the dispute is simply being hidden from other members of the union.
At the end of the day it is up to SOCA members to decide how to proceed and Serwotka is simply having one his "King Arthur" moments by imposing his political will without a democratic decision being made by those affected.
Watch this space for an update.