The civil service’s biggest union has questioned the government’s commitment to ending the gender pay gap and pointed to a decade of below-inflation annual increases and department-by-department deals as evidence.
Inequality remains a fact of life in the pay of departmental staff five decades after the introduction of the Equal Pay Act, PCS said, and more than 60 years after a deadline when Conservative chancellor Rab Butler pledged pay equality for the “non-industrial” civil service would be in place.
Embarrassingly for the government, the Department for International Trade – led by equalities secretary Liz Truss – is one department where pay inequalities are shown to have widened year-on-year when its latest figures were published.
Women in the organisation earned 84p for every £1 that men earned in 2019-20, the figures show, while women’s median hourly pay was 15.9% lower than men’s. The previous year’s figures were 87p and 12.9% respectively. Six other main departments reported widening pay gaps.
Ahead of its national conference last week, PCS said a report commissioned to feed into last year’s spending review found the gender pay gap was 12% for annual pay in 2018-19 and 10% for hourly pay in the civil service.
The union said that a decade of pay restraint and the introduction of “delegated” pay deals in the 1990s, which left secretaries of state responsible for annual pay rises in their departments, had both been significant barriers to pay-packet fairness.
“We believe that it is clear that pay delegation has also led to pay segregation by gender; and that the gender pay gap can be reduced by increasing the pay of the lowest-paid workers,” the union said.
“Departments and agencies, which once had uniform pay at all grade levels, now have huge pay differences, in some cases amounting to tens of thousands of pounds.
“The size of the pay gaps that have opened up as a result is shocking.”
PCS said machinery of government changes had “ruthlessly exposed” pay gaps in recent years, when large numbers of civil servants had been moved overnight into different – or new – departments or agencies.
“It is time for the government to respect the rights of its own workforce and to engage in a proper collective bargaining process with their representatives on key issues such as pay,” it said.
“We want an approach that tackles the problem of unjustified pay disparities; holds assurances for a more joined-up civil service to support the work of government in a unified way, and improves the morale and outlook of all civil servants.”