Working Life March 2018 - International

UK civil service on the cusp of Brexit

In one year, the United Kingdom is expected to begin to leave the European Union. Yet, even with the transition extension that’s currently being discussed, it’s unclear what a post-Brexit Britain will look like. 

As civil servants work to prepare and deliver on Brexit, some politicians have taken aim at them, suggesting that some may be trying to “sabotage” Britain’s exit from the EU. Dave Penman, general secretary of senior public servant and professional union FDA, said in an opinion piece late last year:

“As the realities of trying to deliver Brexit start to bite – laying bare the incoherent and contradictory positions of both government and opposition – the scapegoating of the civil service has begun in earnest. Perhaps it was always going to be thus, but it is no less disappointing for its predictability.”

In reality, the civil service is already under intense pressure. A recent report by the Home Affairs Committee on the ability of the Home Office to deliver new immigration processes following Brexit found that “existing processes are under strain, and under-resourced”.

The report questioned the ability of the Home Office to recruit enough staff to address the current situation, “let alone provide the resources required to cope with the increased workload and challenge that Brexit will bring”.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the union of the majority of Home Office staff, gave evidence to the committee in November. Following the release of the report, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that it “highlights the chaos and confusion at the heart of government on Brexit. Whilst six different cabinet ministers make speeches showing six different versions of Brexit, on the ground the lack of organisation is staggering.”

If there’s a silver lining for civil servants, it could be that to get Brexit over the line is going to require a trusted and supported civil service.

Political journalist Sue Cameron recently interviewed Lord Butler, cabinet secretary from 1988 to 1998, for the BBC series Inside Number 10. She wrote in Civil Service World in February that Lord Butler believes that Brexit “will be a renaissance for the civil service, reversing the trend of the last two decades when ministers increasingly relied on political advisers at the expense of officials”.
By Shelly Biswell

International survey of union rights

The ITUC is the global body for trade unions – made up of millions of workers from across the world, including nearly every industry and sector that you can imagine.

Our 64,000 members are included in that, along with all of the other unions affiliated to the NZ Council of Trade Unions.

Currently, the ITUC is updating its Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights, a database of the legal situation for workers all over the world.

New Zealand’s entry was last updated in 2014, so the CTU has helped to coordinate a response with all of the changes to employment law, and major breaches of workers’ rights, that have happened over the past four years.

Tools like the Survey are important, as they help to inform the ITUC’s priorities for international lobbying and campaigns.
Just like the PSA supports our sister unions across New Zealand, ITUC members can support each other from across the globe.

Find out more here.