The civil service’s biggest union has announced plans for a consultative ballot on pay designed to gauge members’ appetite for strike action if an inflation-busting rise is not agreed next year.
The Public and Commercial Services Union said it would ask all public-sector members for their views in the new year in a move aimed at holding ministers’ feet to the fire on chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Spending Review pledge that the pause on pay rises would end.
Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said PCS’ national executive committee had agreed the ballot at the weekend following concerns that the government would not give public sector workers a meaningful pay rise despite more than a decade of restraint.
In a message to members, Serwotka said a combination of inflation, national insurance hikes to fund the government’s social care plans, and a failure to recalculate contribution rates to the Civil Service Pension Scheme would hit civil servants in the pocket particularly hard from April.
“Next year, you and your family are in line to receive the single-biggest reduction in your living standards any of us can remember,” he said.
“That’s because with inflation running at 5%, with you over-paying 2% towards your pension, with the increase in national insurance and following years of pay restraint, and a failure of the government to even assure us we’ll get an above inflation funded pay rise, next year looks to be even worse than the one we’ve just been through.
“So your national executive committee, listening to those of you demanding that we do something about it, made some key decisions.
"The biggest one of those is that early in the new year we will be holding a consultative ballot of all PCS members in the public sector, asking whether or not you’re prepared to take industrial action.”
Serwotka said members could give the union “the most ammunition possible” to take to the government.
“If you vote in tens of thousands in a large turnout to say you’re prepared to take industrial action, we hope that that will force them to listen,” he said.
“If it still doesn’t, then we would want to move on to a lawful legal strike ballot.”
Last week, public-sector leaders’ union the FDA accused the government of introducing new barriers to public-sector pay rises by calling on pay-review bodies to “have regard of the government’s objective for price stability” in coming to their recommendations.
Assistant general secretary Lucille Thirlby said the guidance made it “abundantly clear” that the pay pause wasn’t over.
In November, paymaster general Michael Ellis told parliament that civil servants could expect to see pay rises reflecting those in the private sector over the next three years.
But he also cautioned of the need to “strike the all-important balance between appropriate reward for hard-working civil servants and the need to live within our means as a nation and recover, as we need to do, from the economic impact of the pandemic”.