'An outrageous swindle': unions give their verdicts on Cabinet Office pay guidance

Written by Beckie Smith on 19 May 2020 in News
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Pay remit guidance for 2020-21 prompts mixed reactions

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The head of the civil service’s biggest trade union has accused ministers of embarking on an “outrageous swindle” after the Cabinet Office published pay guidance allowing departments to give average pay rises of up to 2.5%.

Pay remit guidance yesterday said departments could offer average pay rises of between 1.5% and 2.5% for this financial year.

But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS union, said ministers had “missed an opportunity to increase pay across the board” as civil servants battled the coronavirus pandemic.


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Even if departments opted for the maximum possible pay rise, this would represent a real-terms cut for staff as RPI inflation stands at 2.6%, he said.

“It is an outrageous swindle that ministers have embarked upon by offering our members a pay cut in return for their Herculean efforts during the Corona pandemic,” Serwotka said.

“It shows the hypocrisy of ministers who on the one hand, applaud and praise public sector workers but do not think they are worthy of a genuine pay rise.”

Yesterday’s guidance was a rejection of a call from two other trade unions, the FDA and Prospect, to award a blanket pay offer so each civil service organisation did not have to negotiate its own pay award.

They said negotiating individual pay settlements with around 250 employers would create an unnecessary distraction amid the Covid-19 crisis.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said it was “unfortunate” that the call for a blanket settlement was rejected, noting that civil service pay had fallen behind other parts of the public sector.

But he said Lord Agnew, a minister in the Cabinet Office and Treasury, had provided a “welcome” response to the unions’ letter, agreeing that pay awards should be settled quickly. He said the FDA would be entering negotiations urgently with employers.

“The pay remit guidance is not everything we wanted but paying increases in time will be welcomed by our members, who are doing extraordinary work in response to Covid-19,” Penman said.

The pay guidance said departments would be allowed to give awards greater than 2.5% if they can generate savings elsewhere and provide a convincing business case. Penman said employers must “maximise the flexibilities under the guidance and to do so quickly”

“For our part, we will be proactively contacting employers and are committed to working at speed to negotiate and consult members on any pay offers,” he said.

Prospect deputy general secretary Garry Graham said it was “unfortunate that the minister did not act positively” on the unions’ proposal to take a different approach in light of the pandemic.

“The coronavirus crisis has shown the vital contribution that public servants make to keeping people safe and well, and keeping the country going,” he said.

“Now, in departmental and agency negotiations, we will be pressing for rapid agreement using the flexibilities in this year’s remit guidance to achieve pay awards which protect living standards, provide some pay progression and will be seen as fair.”

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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets @Beckie__Smith.

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