FDA union announces first national pay strike ballot in 40 years after 4.5% offer

Government has sent "clearest possible signal" it wants to treat civil service differently from rest of public sector, Penman says
Ballot box. Photo: Adobe Stock

By Tevye Markson

19 Apr 2023

Senior civil servants will be balloted on taking industrial action over the government’s pay offer to officials last week, in the FDA union's first national strike ballot over pay in more than 40 years.

The union’s executive committee today voted in favour of the ballot, after meeting to discuss its response to last week’s pay award to civil servants of 4.5%.

On Friday, the Cabinet Office published pay remit guidance for 2023-24 offering an average 4.5% increase for most officials below senior civil service level, which unions branded "insulting".

Pay for senior civil servants is made based on the recommendations of the Senior Salaries Review Body, which has yet to be published. However, last year ministers rejected the SSRB's recommendation, which would have been worth more than the 2-3% rise set out in the pay remit guidance, on the basis that the headline figure should be "no higher" than for delegated grades.

Unlike the rest of the public sector, there was no offer of a non-consolidated award to compensate for high inflation in 2022-23. Teaching staff were offered £1,000 and health workers £1,600 plus 2% of their earnings.

The FDA – which is the main union for senior civil servants – said the government has made it clear that it does not value the civil service as highly as the rest of the public sector.

“In my 23 years at the FDA and 10 years as general secretary, I have never found myself so utterly at a loss as to why the government would want to treat our members and the rest of the civil service in this way," Dave Penman, the FDA's general secretary said.

"If this is, as I suspect, a tactical decision to use the civil service to send a message elsewhere then not only is it a flawed one, but it once again demonstrates that there are those in government who simply do not value the civil service in the way they do the rest of the public sector."

He also slammed the government for failing to offer any meaningful engagement on the pay award despite assuring unions there would be an "enhanced consultation process".

“The FDA is a strong, pragmatic union and our approach with employers has aways been led by evidence, persuasion and engagement," Penman said.

"There’s now no pretense that the government places any value in constructive dialogue, with no meaningful engagement on the substance of the ‘offer’, despite repeated assurances of an enhanced consultation process."

Penman said the government has sent "the clearest possible signal that it wants to treat the civil service differently from the rest of the public sector" and the FDA was now sending its own "clearest" message.

"That value, or lack of it, can even now be quantified by a number, rather than an anonymous briefing or a condescending note on someone’s desk," he said.

“That, ultimately, is why the executive committee has decided to ballot for industrial action. We want to send the clearest signal – a signal that FDA members, who pride themselves on their belief in pragmatism and engagement, are left with no choice when a government treats them in this way.”

FDA members last went on strike in 2011, over pension reforms. Their last pay strikes were in 1981.

Fellow civil service unions PCS and Prospect have already staged walkouts, with PCS strikes ongoing since December and Prospect starting industrial action last month. The FDA's Fast Stream members voted for strike action in January over stagnant pay but the union has not yet announced any walkouts. 

The FDA said it has informed members of the decision today and preparations for the ballot will begin shortly.

A government spokesperson said: "The government's pay remit guidance recognises the hard work and vital importance of civil service staff by offering the highest pay increase in 20 years, in line with forecast wage growth across the economy. The deal is also fair to the taxpayer and supports the government’s promise to halve inflation this year, which will help everyone’s incomes go further.

"Industrial action should always be a last resort and dialogue with unions will continue. We urge them to recognise what is reasonable and affordable, as the whole country faces these cost of living challenges."

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