Ministers accused of ‘waging war on their workforce’ as thousands of civil servants strike

Walkouts over pay and pensions hit 132 departments and agencies, including HMRC and DWP
PCS members picket outside the government's Canary Wharf Hub in east London today. Photo: PCS/Twitter

By Jim Dunton

28 Apr 2023

The civil service’s biggest union has accused ministers of waging an “ideological war” on their own workforce by offering departmental officials the worst public sector pay deal against the backdrop of the ongoing cost-of living crisis.

PCS’s claims come as up to 133,000 members across more than 100 departments and agencies stage industrial action today in support of the union’s 10% pay demand for 2022-23 and call for reduced pensions contributions.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said the third national strike was a reflection of civil servants' anger at their treatment in comparison with other parts of the public sector at a time when annual inflation is running at just over 10%.

“When you look at how badly ministers treat their own staff, it’s impossible not to think this is an ideological war on civil servants,” he said.

“The evidence stacks up – ministers bullying their staff, giving our members the worst pay rise in the country, refusing to give them a back-dated pay claim or lump sum, like they’ve given everyone else, failing even to negotiate with us – so how else do you explain it? 

“How else do you explain the incessant attacks by government ministers on their own workforce, if it’s not a point of principle? 

“We were lauded throughout the pandemic, including by the prime minister when he was chancellor, yet now we’re treated worse than anyone else, so it’s no wonder our members’ anger is growing. 

“Ministers should be setting an example to employers, paying their own staff a fair wage, not leading the race to the bottom.” 

The government has steadfastly refused to budge on the average 2-3% pay offer made to rank-and-file civil servants last year.

Earlier this month, the Cabinet Office and Treasury stoked resentment by tabling a 2023-24 offer worth an average of 4.5% – with a small uplift for the lowest paid.

The announcement prompted professionals’ union Prospect to announce two more strike dates for its civil service members.

It has also prompted civil service leaders’ union the FDA to ballot members on strike action.

While members of the senior civil service are subject to a different pay-rise setting process than other civil servants, their uplift for 2022-23 was pegged so that it did not exceed what was offered to staff at lower grades.

This week, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the union’s executive committee viewed a national day of strike action across its membership as the best way to demonstrate the level of anger felt by staff at the treatment of civil servants in comparison to other parts of the public sector.

“We want to send the clearest signal,” he said. “A signal that FDA members, who pride themselves on their belief in pragmatism and engagement, are left with no choice when a government treats them in this way.”

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