It is a tough time to be a civil servant right now. A two-year pay freeze for many of us, pensions under threat, redundancy terms to be slashed, tens of thousands of jobs to be axed, who'd want to join an organisation under such circumstances? Making a case for civil servants is, I admit, a bit like trying to defend anthrax, but perhaps one should explain why some of my colleagues are so unhappy.
On pensions, there was a covenant of sorts. The benefit that the pension represented was factored into our rates of pay, a point made during every pay negotiation by management. Now, all of a sudden, the pension is a burden on the State. Yes, it probably is, but you can understand the level of disgruntlement this might generate. Besides, it wasn't civil servants who reduced the retirement age to sixty, it was politicians trying to reduce payroll numbers in the late-eighties.
As far as redundancy terms are concerned, there is no doubt that their generosity has acted as a disincentive to weeding out the lazy, the inefficient and the downright disruptive. Instead, enhanced retirement packages, natural wastage and the non-filling of vacancies have been the preferred tools used to cut numbers. For an increasingly twitchy Civil Service, who have already struck for three days this year in opposition to proposed changes to the redundancy terms, and are bracing themselves for job losses, such proposals look like provocation.
The hope, of course, is that the private sector will create enough new jobs to more than offset those lost in the public one. However, many Civil Service jobs have, over four decades, been transferred to areas of relatively high unemployment, away from London and the South East. If you're working in Scotland or the North East, for example, the promise of private sector opportunities might not be as convincing as it might be in, say, South London.
And because we're emerging tentatively from recession, levels of natural wastage are likely, in historic terms, to be relatively low. Enhanced pension incentives don't really stack up, whilst leaving vacancies unfilled is not going to do the trick. All of which makes redundancy a looming cloud on the horizon for civil servants.
So, when you read of threats of industrial unrest in the public sector, remember what the average civil servant is thinking. You probably know at least one. You're probably even related to one. And like animals in a zoo, civil servants have feelings too...