PCS chief: ‘We’ll push Labour for inflation-busting pay rises’

Mark Serwotka says strike success has demonstrated the need for a better deal for civil servants
Mark Serwotka addresses the TUC conference earlier this week Photo:PCS/X

By Jim Dunton

15 Sep 2023

The civil service’s biggest union plans to push the Labour Party for pay restoration to compensate officials for more than a decade of wage restraint and for “inflation busting” rises in future, its general secretary has said.

PCS chief Mark Serwotka said he expected the union’s arguments would get a more sympathetic hearing from Labour than has been the case with the current government. But he acknowledged that Labour’s current offering to the trade union movement fell short and said Sir Keir Starmer’s team was unlikely to give the union everything it wanted.

Serwotka, who is due to step down from the helm of PCS at the end of the year, set out his thinking on the union’s future pay strategy in an interview published today by left-leaning magazine Tribune.

With Labour comfortably ahead of the Conservative Party in the opinion polls and on track to seize power at the next general election – which must take place by January 2025 – Serwotka said Starmer needed to be given a chance to deliver for civil servants.

“I believe that you’ve got to give everybody a chance,” he said. “The PCS will meet with Labour and be clear that we need pay restoration and then inflation-busting pay rises.

“I’m confident that we’ll get a fairer hearing than what we would receive under the Conservatives, but I wouldn’t say I’m confident they’ll deliver what we’re asking.”

Serwotka said getting the Conservative Party out of government was a core goal, but Labour needed to earn the right to win a general election – and would have to “enthuse people with something positive” to do so.

“This is very different to 1997,” he said. “The union movement now is much more resurgent. Having had a year where we’ve had an unprecedented number of strikes, I don’t think what Labour’s offering is good enough.”

Serwotka added: “It’s hard to get a straight answer from Labour on whether they even support inflation-proof pay rises for public sector workers. We want Labour to win – of course we do – but they have to set out a vision.”

Pay restoration for civil servants would aim to make up for real-terms pay cuts often described by PCS and other civil service unions as being in the region of 25% since 2010.

Despite being hailed as a significant victory, the 2023-24 pay settlement for rank-and-file civil servants is worth 4.5%, with an extra 0.5% for the lowest paid, along with a one-off cost-of-living bonus of £1,500. PCS had been seeking a 10% rise for the year. 

Inflation, as measured by the Consumer Prices Index, was 6.8% in the year to July – the most recent month for which figures are available. 

Serwotka insisted that the government’s offer was a success for the union and had only been secured by PCS members’ willingness to strike in support of a fair settlement.

“In our dispute, we didn’t get what we originally wanted, but we won more than they would have given us if we hadn’t taken action,” he said “It’s important to remember this. When our union is next asking members to strike again, I can look them in the eye and say that the last time you went on strike, you won something. This success builds momentum.”

He added that the government had also agreed to national talks on changing civil service pay structures to deal with low pay and inherent issues, and that union members had only consented to pause strike action while the process is ongoing.

“People want more than they are getting. That’s why so many workers have been on strike,” he said. “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Regardless of who is in No.10, if your pay is less than inflation, you want something done about it.

“The way to head that off is for Labour to be more visionary and assure people who are desperate that they will make radical changes.”

Read the most recent articles written by Jim Dunton - Civil service spending on temporary staff hit £7.4bn last year

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