Cabinet Office 'has rejected meaningful talks' over strike action, says union

Prospect blasts Cabinet Office's "cavalier approach" to pay negotiations, criticising 10-day response and non-offer
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy. Photo: Vuk Valcic/ZUMA Press Wire

By Tevye Markson

10 Mar 2023

The government has indicated it will not commit to meaningful talks to resolve civil service strikes ahead of the huge walk-out planned for Spring Budget day, according to a union boss.

Prospect chief Mike Clancy wrote to Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin on 27 February offering to clear his diary for “intensive discussions” after the union’s members voted for strike action.

But Clancy said Quin took 10 days to respond and had nothing to offer.

“He did not reply until 9 March – and offered nothing. Not even a meeting. His assertion that he is committed to engage with us and other unions is not borne out by the facts. If he wanted to seek a resolution he would agree to meet,” Clancy said.

“I have never in my career experienced such delays and such a cavalier approach, particularly when faced with such an overwhelming vote for industrial action, one that should be a wake up call to officials and ministers.”

Prospect members voted by 80% for strike action and 92% for action short of strike on a turnout of 72%, the union announced at the end of February.

 The union announced at the same time that walkouts would begin on 15 March, joining action by fellow civil service union PCS timed to coincide with chancellor Jeremy Hunt's Spring Budget. 

The government has offered "substantive talks" with other public sector unions, and new negotiations over this year’s pay deal, in exchange for calling off strikes but no such offer has been made to civil service unions. 

In January, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Oliver Dowden ruled out renegotiating the 2023-23 pay package. He said: “It's been a principle across government and I think a correct one that we can't start unpicking deals that have been previously agreed”.

However, departments have made offers to ambulance workers, nurses and teachers to look again at this year's pay package and, according to unions, offered to put more money on the table for ambulance workers.

Civil service unions have described negotiations with the Cabinet Office so far over pay as a “farce”. They also dispute Dowden's suggestion that there was ever any agreement over the current year's pay offer. 

Civil servants received lower average pay increases compared to most other public sector workers, getting 2-3% this year, compared to 5.4% for teachers, 4.75% for nurses and 4% for ambulance workers.

PCS members have been striking since mid-December, with tens of thousands of Prospect members set to join them from budget day on Wedesday. Prospect will also take action short of strike from the next day, including working to contracted hours and overtime bans.

Prospect has asked for “a fair offer that gives our members the pay and the certainty around their jobs that they deserve”. PCS has been more specific in its demands, requesting a 10% pay rise to reflect a year of soaring inflation, a living wage of at least £15 an hour for all civil servants, an immediate 2% cut in pension contributions that civil servants have overpaid since 2018, and no further cuts to redundancy payments.

A government spokesperson said: "Industrial action should always be a last resort, and discussions continue at official level with civil service unions. We urge them to recognise what is reasonable and affordable, as the whole country faces these cost of living challenges."

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