Why police must now seek industrial rights

Why police must now seek industrial rights

In 1978, the then Labour government commissioned Lord Edmund-Davies to look into police pay (writes Met Federation Chairman Peter Smyth).

He concluded that the police had been treated very poorly, suffering years of low pay awards. He recommended a new system of dealing with police pay, including an immediate 45 per cent pay rise (so low had police pay sunk) and a formula under which officers would receive rises in line with the AVERAGE pay awards for other workers.

Jim Callaghan's government agreed but decided to stagger the immediate 45 per cent increase over two years.

A few months later, Margaret Thatcher's new Conservative government came to power and immediately implemented the full increase.

Over the past 30 years, the formula has changed slightly but the principle of pay rises based on the average pay increases of other workers has remained.

The Police Negotiating Board (PNB) was empowered to conduct any negotiations and there was the facility to go to independent arbitration on any matters of disagreement - though, unsurprisingly, a system based on an average of other workers' pay rises rarely leads to disagreement and arbitration.

When Tony Blair's government was elected, police pay became a hot topic. This culminated in many police officers' allowances and conditions being eroded or taken away altogether.

For example, the plain clothes allowance, and the allowance for buying meals when retained on duty over and above normal shifts, were abolished, and changes were made to the way in which officers' days off were cancelled and the amount of notice given - all designed to save the Government money.

As compensation for this, the Government awarded us an extra ?402 a year.

Many officers felt that this payment was insufficient and the entire exercise was all about saving the government money at our expense.

Despite these issues, the principles of police pay awards based on the average given to other workers remained sacrosanct? until, that is, the current government decided that police pay would henceforth be based on awards given to specific groups of public sector workers.

What have these public sector groups got in common? Their pay is settled in line with Government/Treasury policy. Unlike police, however, they do have the option to take industrial action should their pay award be unacceptable.

By linking police pay with this new group, the Government expected to save nearly one per cent of the police pay bill in the first year alone.

When the independent Police Arbitration Panel indicated this wasn't quite fair, our dishonourable Government shamelessly changed the date of implementation to achieve their end.

Now they have announced that, because we had the temerity to reject their derisive pay offer in 2008 and insist that the matter went to arbitration, they will change the rules again.

They intend to disband the PNB and replace it with a Pay Review Body (translation: a bunch of New Labour's cronies who are happy to pick up a few quid for turning out a few days a year and doing whatever the Government tells them to).

In addition to this, if the Pay Review Body (PRB) recommends a pay rise that is thought to be unacceptable to the staff (police officers) we will have no negotiation process and no right to go to arbitration. We will be over a barrel.

I am one of the few officers left who remember police pay before Edmund-Davies and have a vivid recollection of life as a young constable, with high rates of inflation, high interest rates and low pay.

When I joined my new relief team in 1977 after leaving training school, only three of the 18 constables on the team owned a car (and their vehicles certainly weren't anywhere near new).

Even in those days, when morale was very low, and living on a police wage was very difficult, I never dreamed of seeking the right to take industrial action.

This Government have shattered any illusion I ever had that we might be treated with any degree of fairness.

Throughout our recent pay wranglings, I have always stated that, for me, success would be about achieving a fair pay negotiating machinery for the future. That is now clearly impossible.

In a recent ballot, our members voted by an overwhelming majority to seek the right to binding arbitration in police pay disputes. They also voted overwhelmingly that, if binding arbitration was not achieved, we should seek the right to industrial action.

There can be no fair settlements while people like Jacqui Smith and Gordon Brown are in charge. Clearly, holding the moral high ground and having substantial public and cross-party support are not enough to convince this administration of our just and fair case.

Lord Edmund Davies recognised that police, having no right to strike, must be treated as a special case. Successive Home Secretaries have endorsed this view for 30 years. Please remember: we haven?t asked for more - we?ve only asked for the average.

The only possibility of a fair deal now and in the future is if we have access to industrial rights (let us not forget that UK police officers are the only ones anywhere in Europe who have no industrial rights).

I accept that achieving such rights may be a long and bloody process

However, I am now left with no option but to call upon my colleagues in Police Federations throughout the UK to unite behind our negotiators and to urge them to begin the campaign to win industrial rights for police officers.