Civil servants can use the government’s ongoing Brexit turmoil to leverage a proper cost-of-living pay rise out of ministers, the leader of Whitehall’s biggest union has said.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that after almost a decade of frozen pay or sub-inflationary rises, the government’s current crisis put key workers in a strengthened bargaining position.
Ahead of the opening of a six-week ballot on strike action, aimed at delivering a 2019-20 pay deal that compensates for years of restraint, Serwotka said members in central government departments were in a position to address a decade when their pay had fallen below inflation by more than 15%.
Serwotka also claimed that John Manzoni had reiterated that funding for civil service pay this year will remain capped at 1%, despite other parts of the public sector receiving significantly better deals than civil servants had been offered over the past 12 months.
“Last year, when other parts of the public sector broke through the pay cap, the government secretly agreed to limit our pay increases to 1-1.5%,” Serwotka said in the latest edition of PCS People.
“To make matters worse, in January the head of the UK civil service offered a disgraceful 1% increase in exchange for terms and conditions.
“That’s why we will be holding an industrial action ballot. We need to force this shambolic government to negotiate on our pay claim.
“With the complexities of Brexit looming large over every government department, you’re needed now more than ever. With a 'yes' vote in the ballot we will hold maximum leverage over a government in total disarray.”
Serwotka conceded that while 86% of votes cast in 2018’s ballot had been in favour of strike action, the union had failed to reach the crucial 50% turnout threshold that would have made action legal.
He said the 2019 ballot, which runs from Monday to 29 April, would be focused on the core UK civil servants to reach the threshold that would make a strike legitimate.
“If we are to beat the threshold, we need to include areas that can deliver the strongest possible vote,” he said.
“Across the union we’re running major recruitment exercises, and we’ve invested in digital technology to assist in organising.”
In January the union suggested that it was minded to seek an 8-10% rise for civil servants and would target strike action in May.