IT strikes, a sign of the times?


The end of the strike over pay, redundancies and pensions at Fujitsu services raises a host of questions.

The deal, announced last Friday, ends a four-month dispute, which saw 10 days of strike action, a lobby of parliament and the targeting of Marks & Spencer, Vodafone, the Home Office, HM Revenue & Customs, the Financial Services Authority, and the Post Office.

During the course of the action the number of redundancies has gone down from a planned 1,200 to 586 voluntary redundancies and 23 compulsory redundancies. That is quite a difference.

Surprising too is the minimum basic wage of £12,000 promised by the union. IT service companies promise to reduce user organisations’ costs through economies of scale and labour arbitrage – a fancy way of saying they will push down staffing costs.

I wonder though how many organisations that contract out to IT service providers would be happy if they knew the staff working on their systems were on £12k basic? Would they want call centre staff on £12k? How much commitment do you get for that sort of money?

The situation is not going to get any easier. End user organisations are under pressure to reduce costs, and that means staffing will come under the spotlight. IT service organisations are similarly under pressure to drive up margins – and part of that will come from keeping a tight reign on costs.

The Fujitsu dispute was one example of where this pressure ends up. The BBC is another. There contractors employed by Siemens, are balloting on strike action over pay and redundancies.

Back in January hundreds of staff at HP, working mainly at the Department of Work and Pensions walked out over the same issues. They are due out again next week.

In the past, IT professionals tended to walk way from jobs that they found unrewarding – either financially or intellectually. In the current economic climate there is less opportunity to do that. It is time to consider the implications that will have. With IT and IT services getting commoditised, it is not surprising that IT workers start acting like others in the wider workforce.

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