Garry Graham: government handling of civil service pay leaves unions with no choice but to take legal action

Written by Garry Graham on 18 July 2018 in Opinion
Opinion

The government has effectively told civil servants it values them less than other public sector workers, says Prospect’s deputy general secretary. This cannot go unchallenged

Photo: PA

Lawyers representing Prospect, FDA and PCS wrote to the Cabinet Office yesterday afternoon to warn that if they do not withdraw the latest Civil Service Pay Remit Guidance then we are prepared to commence an official judicial review.

This is not a decision we have taken lightly, and there is still time for the government to withdraw the guidance themselves and engage in serious dialogue. But if the government continues with the obstinate approach they have taken so far we will have no choice other than to proceed with the judicial review and fight in court for a decent pay rise for our members and all civil servants.

Our argument with the government concerns both the substance of the guidance and the process of its formulation. When the government announced the end of the public sector pay cap last year, public servants quite reasonably expected that they were on the cusp of their first decent pay rise for seven years. The cap of 1% had led to real term pay cuts for dedicated staff who worked harder than ever for less reward every year as their pay failed to keep up with inflation. The resulting impact on recruitment, retention and morale across the public sector was both predicted and predictable.


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Equally predictable was the shock and anger that greeted the publication of the Pay Remit Guidance last month, limiting civil service pay rises to an average of 1-1.5%. Not only is this far below the deals being given to other parts of the public sector such as the NHS or local government, but it also sees pay in the civil service fall further and further behind equivalent jobs in the private sector.  

The lack of engagement from government with the unions representing civil servants prior to publishing this guidance was shocking but perhaps not unexpected given the paucity of the offer they were planning to make. The government have now acknowledged these failures of process and apologised, but in response to robust challenge from Prospect and other civil service unions they have steadfastly refused to withdraw the guidance and engage in a meaningful dialogue to try to seek a more reasonable settlement. This is just not good enough. The guidance puts civil servants firmly at the back of the queue for a pay rise, it is an intolerable situation that cannot be allowed to stand.

We cannot continue to place this burden on the civil service without expecting serious consequences. There are already civil service departments and agencies sounding alarm bells about their inability to recruit or retain skilled staff. Just yesterday the Foreign Office services annual report warned that “continuing civil service pay constraint erodes our market position relative to many other employers; especially at senior levels and for professional skill groups”. This guidance will only amplify these concerns.

There are clear arguments for withdrawing this guidance because of the practical impact it will have on the civil service and on those who have dedicated so much of their careers to public service. But there is another factor the government must take into account, which is the impact on morale of treating civil servants in this manner. The government are effectively telling civil servants, who are delivering critical national projects such as Brexit, that it values them far less than other public sector workers or those who work in the private sector. It isn’t right and it cannot stand.

About the author

Garry Graham is the deputy general secretary of Prospect

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