Members of the civil service’s biggest union have sent a “strong message” to ministers that a double-digit pay rise needs to be on the table following a decade of wage-restraint, according to the results of a consultative ballot.
The PCS union today revealed the outcome of its survey of member sentiment on pay and pensions, which ran from March 14-21, just hours before chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his spring statement.
The ballot found 80.7% of members are willing to take industrial action in support of the union’s 10% pay demand, which follows 10 years of frozen salaries or capped rises that the union says has equated to a real-terms drop in living standards of 20% over the period.
It is not the first time in recent years that PCS has sought an inflation-busting pay hike for members. However a 10% rise is increasingly close to official estimates of cost-of-living increases for the coming year.
On Friday last week the Bank of England said it expects inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index to hit 8% this spring, and cautioned it “could go even higher” later in the year.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the ballot results were the “highest ever ‘yes’ vote in favour of industrial action” in the union’s history and should be acknowledged in Downing Street.
“Ministers must sit up and take notice of this strong message,” he said. “They must provide the funds for a decent pay rise for hard-working, mostly low-paid civil servants who have kept the country running during the pandemic.”
PCS sad the ballot’s 80.7% vote in favour of industrial action – which can cover strike action or other measures short of a walk-out – to achieve the pay demand reflected the votes of 56,327 civil service members.
An even greater proportion of respondents – 93.7%, or 68,061 members – gave their backing to the pay demand.
Any industrial action would require a further vote of affected members and would need to be based on a minimum turnout of 50% to be lawful.
PCS said the union’s national executive committee was writing to the Cabinet Office to outline the strength of members’ feelings on pay and to “demand that the cost of living crisis is addressed in this year's pay settlement”.
In late 2020, just weeks after Sunak outlined plans for the 2021-2022 pay freeze for all but the lowest-paid civil servants, PCS secured a parliamentary debate on public-sector pay through the petitions system.
Then Exchequer secretary to the Treasury Kemi Badenoch was the only Conservative MP to speak in the debate and gave the government response.
Ahead of October 2021’s Spending Review Sunak confirmed that the 2021-2022 pay freeze would not continue beyond the current financial year. Ministers have since failed to set out firm plans for how they will increase pay for rank-and-file civil servants from April.