Civil servants gear up for strike vote on pay and job cuts

"Government has left us no alternative," union says ahead of planned ballot later this year
Mark Serwotka. Photo: Andy Aitchison/PCS

By Tevye Markson

25 May 2022

The civil service’s biggest union has pushed forward with plans to strike over pay, pensions and redundancy terms.

PCS members voted yesterday to ballot members in September on whether to go on strike over the government’s “derisory” offer of a 2% pay rise this year, as well as concerns over the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and a "pension robbery".

The union is also set to vote tomorrow on striking over plans to axe 91,000 jobs, announced by the prime minister earlier this month, with PCS confident this will go through and also be on the ballot in September.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told conference: “We have had enough. The government has left us no option other than to call for strike action because that is the only language they understand. 

“The government must know cuts have consequences, not just for our members, but for everyone who relies on the services they provide.” 

Serwotka said the “sheer size” of the vote in favour of moving forward with strike plans showed "the very real anxiety and anger our members feel at the way they have been treated by this government”.

“To vote for strike action is a massive step, but the actions of the government have left us with no alternative,” he added.

Members debated whether to take action sooner, with one branch of the union putting forward an alternative motion calling for a strike ballot on 1 July.

But delegates overwhelmingly voted to ballot members in September, agreeing that time was needed to ensure the union achieved the 50% turnout necessary to go on strike.

PCS consulted members earlier this year, with 81% of members supporting striking over pay, although only 45% of members responded, which would have been below the threshold for strike action if it had been a ballot.

The union declared itself “formally in dispute” with the government in April over its 2022-23 pay proposals for officials, then targeting an “early autumn” ballot on strike action aimed at securing a 10% pay rise.

In April, the Cabinet Office set out its pay remit guidance for this financial year, which proposed that most officials would be in line for a 2% annual rise with the potential for an extra 1% in exceptional cases.

The union has also taken the government to court several times over officials overpaying into their pensions.

It has challenged the government’s decision to pause a cost-control mechanism built into 2015 pension reforms that would have reduced scheme members’ contribution rates based on a 2016 scheme valuation. However, ministers have sought to use those higher funding rates to offset the cost of the McCloud remedy,  which addressed the unlawful treatment of some public sector members differently based on their age.

PCS also said the government has "signalled its intention to launch a fresh assault on the terms of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme", which includes redundancy packages. 

Prospect said last week that the Cabinet Office had told them that any redundancies made as part of plans to cut tens of thousands of jobs over the next three years would be on 2010 terms

A Cabinet Office spokesperson has now told CSW:  "Reforming the Civil Service Compensation Scheme is a long-standing policy to ensure taxpayer's money is spent efficiently, provide fair compensation for those that exit and equip the Civil Service with the skills it needs for the future.

"We will continue to consult with trade unions on these proposals." 

Speaking to the conference ahead of the vote, Serwotka said: “Throughout the pandemic our members worked hard providing critical frontline services. 

“Despite our hard work, the government attacked us. They came for our integrity, accusing us of being lazy because we worked from home. 

“Let me tell you: unlike the prime minister, we weren’t being distracted by cheese. We kept the country running, providing Universal Credit to almost 10 million people, furlough to almost six million people, keeping our borders open, keeping the roads safe.

"Then government came for our pensions but still we carried on working, doing our bit, making people's lives easier.

“Then the government came for our dignity, Jacob Rees-Mogg sticking Post-It notes on computers, demanding we returned to desks which, subsequently it transpired weren’t there. But still we carried on working, getting on with our jobs .

“But then they came for our jobs. They announced plans to close 42 DWP offices, ten Insolvency Offices and, just ten days ago, told us one in five civil servant’s jobs would go. 

“They didn’t listen to us when we carried on working, so maybe now it’s time for us to stop working. It’s time to tell this rotten government: ‘Enough is enough’.”

A government spokesperson said: "We are incredibly grateful to the civil service for the outstanding job they do in delivering for the public but when people across the country are facing huge living costs, the public rightly expect their government to lead by example and to run as efficiently as possible.

"We are continuing to engage with the unions and any speculation on where reductions will be made is premature. We will set out our plans in due course."

This article was amended at 11:00 on 26 May to include a comment from a Cabinet Office spokesperson.

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