Civil service pay talks branded a 'farce' as unions say Cabinet Office minister had 'nothing to offer'

Further strike action threatened as unions criticise lack of offer to address their pay and conditions concerns
Photo: Uwe Deffner/Alamy Stock Photo

By Tevye Markson

12 Jan 2023

Ministers had “nothing to offer” civil servants at a meeting intended to address pay concerns, according to the PCS and FDA unions.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, said the meeting between civil service unions and the minister for the Cabinet Office today was a “total farce”.

The meeting “lacked anything concrete from the government” to address unions' concerns over pay, pensions and redundancy terms, FDA general secretary Dave Penman said.

And Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said the public sector professionals’ union would now push ahead with a formal strike ballot after the lack of offer left it with "no alternative".

PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, yesterday announced a one-day strike on 1 February for all members who work in government organisations that met the threshold for industrial action in November, in an escalation of the action it has already taken.

PCS has demanded that the government “put some money on the table” if it wants to resolve the dispute, but Serwotka said minister Jeremy Quin failed to offer anything to the unions.

“This meeting was a total farce. Despite being well-trailed by the government as a chance to resolve the crisis, it was nothing of the sort because the minister had nothing to offer,” Serwotka said.

“He didn’t deny our members were being offered less than anyone else [in the public service]; he didn’t deny tens of thousands of our members only get a pay rise because of the rise in the national minimum wage; but he refused to give us a pay rise now.

“Despite all we told him, despite knowing the alternative would be sustained industrial action, he still refused to budge, saying he could only talk about 2023-24.”

“We will not stand by and watch our members be condemned to low pay,” Serwotka said.

“We’ve tried talking but it appears the only option open to us is to force them to change their mind, and the only way we can do that is to escalate our strike action.

“Because of the minister’s refusal to help us now, the one-day strike we announced yesterday will go ahead as promised on February 1, and we shall look to escalate our action further, calling more members out on more strikes until the government listens to us.”

Serwotka said the union will now go ahead with the national strike on 1 February, given the lack of progress at the meeting, and will look to escalate action further. PCS members in departments and agencies including the Department for Work and Pensions, Border Force and National Highways have already gone on strike in the last month. 

'No grounds for optimism': Prospect to pursue formal ballot

Prospect could soon join PCS, warning: "We see no alternative at this point than to continue to pursue our formal ballot for industrial action."

“At the meeting I asked the minister if the government planned to continue with real-terms pay cuts for civil servants as it has done for the last decade or more," Clancy said.

"In his answers, the minister refused to offer any more money for 2022-23 and gave no grounds for optimism that the position would be any different in the coming pay year.

“It is clear that civil servants remain at the back of the queue for public sector pay."

Clancy said union representatives offered to clear their diaries next week for negotiations with the minister if the government is prepared to change its position, but added "that means there has to be more money on the table".

Prospect held an indicative vote on taking industrial action in November and December, with 93% of those who voted expressing support.

‘Cordial’ but ‘nothing tangible’, FDA chief says

The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, also criticised the government’s approach at the meeting.

“Our meeting this morning with Jeremy Quin, minister for the Cabinet Office, over pay was as ever cordial, but as has been the case up till now, it lacked anything concrete from the government to address the issues we’ve been raising with ministers, employers and review bodies,” Penman said.

FDA is currently holding a formal ballot of fast streamers on whether to walk out, after 81% backed industrial action in an indicative vote in the summer.

Penman said the union welcomed the minister’s offer of further dialogue but “could not have been clearer” that if the government wants to resolve the disputes “it requires something tangible to be put on the table, not simply being in “listening mode”.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The minister for the Cabinet Office, Jeremy Quin, met with representatives from civil service trade unions today to listen to and understand their concerns. This forms part of the government's commitment to engaging with unions across the board.

"The meeting included discussions to help ensure fair and affordable public sector pay settlements. We regret the PCS decision to call further strike action, but discussions will continue and we have comprehensive plans in place to keep essential services running and to minimise disruption."

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