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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 April, 2004, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Try living on our wages, say civil servants
Civil servant protest
JobCentre workers say they struggle on 'meagre' wages

As thousands of civil servants stage a strike over low pay, some of those who forfeited their wages to voice their discontent told BBC News Online what drove them to do so.

Civil servants have sometimes been accused by the media of creating red tape and wasting tax-payers money.

But those facing hardship point to their work on the frontline, insisting they are carrying out an essential public service.

Some of them work at the job centre in the busy West End of London and say they find every week a struggle to make ends meet on a wage of just over 15,000-a-year.

They say it is only fair they should expect an annual pay rise at least in line with inflation for a job in which there is the constant threat of assault and often verbal abuse.

Performance pay

But they say a new performance pay directive only a small proportion of staff receive a yearly salary increase which even equals the annual rise in inflation.

One of those workers led the picket outside the Jobcentre in Soho, amid the trendy bars and restaurants of London's West End.

"I don't think there could be a more justified strike," said Rob Bryson.

Employees picketing their job centre
Job centre employees Gus Sivyer, Rob Bryson, Patricia Downer

"One of the reasons we are striking is because of a recent pay award scheme which has been imposed despite opposition by 94% of union members.

"The deal means a pay rise for the majority of staff which is below inflation.

"We already have entrenched poverty pay - we're the worst paid in public sector."

He went on to say: "Arguably we have to deal with the most difficult customers - staff assaults are very common.

"We are also extremely short-staffed which brings the morale of the staff down.

Mr Bryson described the latest scheme for performance-related pay as "fundamentally flawed".

"But overall it's an accumulation of issues - we're being assaulted on all fronts.

At this rate we are going to have to leave London just to get a mortgage
Gus Sivyer
"We've been threatened with disciplinary action and the management have been trying to intimidate us into not striking but we won't budge - we've had enough."

He added the Department for Work and Pensions should set a good example by paying reasonable wages in line with the soaring cost of living.

The DWP's management have said the pay offer on the table is a "substantial" one - worth an average 5% - targeted towards more junior and less well-paid staff.

Patricia Downer, who has two children and one grandchild to support, said she was forced to choose between television rental and paying her council tax.

'Dead end'

The single mother, who says she cannot afford to own a mobile phone, said: "I've had to get part-time jobs in the evening just to make ends meet and I know many other people who do so."

Gus Sivyer, who recently graduated, says he once thought going into the civil service was a good career move but now thinks it's a "dead-end".

"My girlfriend is a teacher and we live together in a one-bedroom flat.

"We use all my wages just paying the rent and bills and her salary just covers our living costs.

At this rate we are going to have to leave London just to get a mortgage."

But he added: "We've had tremendous support from the public."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Judith Moritz
"The strike has caused some disruption"



SEE ALSO:
Benefit workers strike over pay
13 Apr 04  |  Scotland
Driving tests hit as strike grows
17 Feb 04  |  Business
DWP civil servants put off strike
28 Jan 04  |  Business


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