Unions rebuff two-tier workforce inquiry

7 Jun 01
Unions are ready to boycott the government's promised investigation into the so-called 'two-tier' workforce, amid concerns that it could become a propaganda exercise.

08 June 2001

In a move that has already raised eyebrows, the Treasury has commissioned the Office of Government Commerce to conduct an independent review into the effects of privatising the public sector workforce.

The OGC review, still without a launch date, has been promised following union claims that value for money in public-private partnerships is achieved at the expense of workers' pay and conditions.

Both Unison and the T&G unions argue that a two-tier workforce, where new recruits receive poorer pay and conditions than those who transfer to the private sector, is being created under the current plethora of PPPs. There are also concerns over the conditions of part-time women workers.

Peter Ryan, former head of procurement at the Ministry of Defence, is overseeing the project at the OGC. He is understood to have a shortlist of up to seven academic institutions – including the London School of Economics – to conduct the review.

But Ryan has made it clear that the unions will not be allowed to have any influence over the direction or the management of the project.

The unions have already countered that they will then see the review as neither independent nor impartial, and have accused the government of attempting a propaganda exercise to buffer concerns over the use of the private sector.

'Given the crucial importance to the government of PPPs in the next four years, unions are already uncomfortable,' a source told Public Finance. 'There are doubts that the OGC is the best agency to conduct this and that the proposed project is everything it should be,' he added.

Unions have also voiced concerns over Ryan's proposal to have just one person conducting the research project, although he is understood to have redrafted this initial suggestion.

A source at Unison said the unions have made it clear that if the OGC fails to involve them they will simply ignore the findings and continue to press the Treasury for a fair wages resolution and better working conditions.

'We welcome the Treasury's acknowledgement of a real problem,' Jack Dromey, national organiser at the T&G, told Public Finance. 'We will not sign a blank cheque until we see what is being proposed and a joint determination to produce the necessary evidence. The question still is who should conduct it and how.'

The OGC refused to comment. The review is expected to start in the next six to nine months.


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