Tuesday, May 10, 2005

MoD wage deduction prompts union outrage

March walk-out at centre of row

A row has erupted over efforts by the Ministry of Defence to dock an hour’s pay from the wages of staff members who participated in a recent protest against privatisation plans.

Outraged union leaders claimed yesterday that the measure had been applied to the MoD’s entire civilian workforce, including those who had nothing to do with the demonstration.

According to them, employees who attended the protest but had actually finished work before it started also lost an hour’s pay, as did those on flexible working hours who returned to their desks shortly after it finished.

Only workers who were on holiday or on sick leave at the time appear to have escaped with their wage packets intact.

Yesterday, a spokeswoman for the MoD admitted that there had been “some incorrect deductions” and that these would be rectified. “They’ve been caught up when they shouldn’t have been,” she said, though there was no confirmation of the numbers involved.

Union officials were less subtle in their assessment and described the development as a “managerial cock-up.”

The protest in question took place on March 1 during the visit to Gibraltar of a team of officials from the MoD’s Permanent Joint Headquarters in Northwood, who were here to discuss the privatisation proposal. About 200 workers demonstrated outside the Tower against the plan, which will initially impact on some 300 civilian staff but could have wider repercussions on the MoD’s civilian workforce and the broader local economy.

MoD managers subsequently checked their records to establish the names of those who had attended and deduct an hour’s pay in response to the stoppage.

In an internal memo dated March 18, the MoD said it intended to target only those involved in the protest and that no formal disciplinary action would be taken against them. But the unions’ claimed yesterday that the pay deduction had been applied across the civilian workforce, with the onus placed on the workers to appeal – and prove - any mistakes before these could be rectified.

“Those employees working flexi-hours and who went diligently back to work were deducted one hour’s pay,” said the Transport and General Workers Union/Acts and Prospect in a joint statement.

“Parts of the workforce finish at 3.30pm, yet they were deducted one hour’s pay, even though the action did not take place until 4pm.

We add further a particular department within the Naval Base [which] did not receive the [protest] instruction until the 2nd of March, were not even in attendance at the action, and yes, they have been deducted one hour’s pay.”

Aside from the pay implications, the development also sheds light on the level of scrutiny that MoD civilian workers are coming under as a result of their fight against the privatisation plans.

“[MoD] Command took great pleasure in informing Trades Unions and staff alike by commenting, ‘we know who was there’ [and] ‘we have photographic evidence’,” the union statement said.

“Big brother watching, [that was] obviously the message.”

The March 18 memo makes clear that “mustering arrangements” were implemented in response to the action, meaning that a record was taken to show which employees were working normally and which were not.

At the time of the protest, reporters also spotted at least one unidentified person taking photographs of the demonstration at gates to the Tower.


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