Parliament is a dysfunctional place to work. The building is falling down. The electricity often fails. There are so many mice in the corridors that staff have been asked not to bring food into the office. Sexual abuse scandals abound.
Now MPs’ staff are threatening to go on strike over pay. The parliamentary staff branch of Unite, which includes parliamentary assistants, researchers, office managers and caseworkers in constituency offices, is exploring options for industrial action after claiming their pay increase had been set at 4.9 per cent – around half the rate of inflation.
The workers are in a tricky position because of their unique employment arrangements. Parliamentary staffers are not actually employed by parliament. Each MP is given a staff budget, which is decided by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) and a panel of MPs chaired by the Speaker. MPs then decide how they use that budget to hire their employees. The rules were changed in recent years, meaning Ipsa sets staff pay unless an MP opts out.
Ipsa has denied that the 4.9 per cent figure was correct. Its said the final pay increase had not yet been agreed. The union claims the figure has been approved by Ipsa internally but needs to be signed off by the Speaker’s panel.
The mood among the staff employed by the House of Commons, rather than MPs, is bleak as well. A survey seen by the New Statesman from October found that 8 per cent of staff reported being bullied or harassed in the past twelve months. One union source said staffers bear the brunt of growing resentment towards Westminster. “Caseworkers are taking on the role of social workers,” they said.
The branch is seeking legal advice from Unite and is meeting next Thursday to discuss their response. If they do decide to strike, the union branch is facing a pay negotiation with 650 different employers. And Mick Lynch thinks he has it hard.