Civil service walkouts to continue after fresh vote – but DWP staff miss strike threshold

FCDO could see first action in PCS's campaign over pay and conditions, but turnout falls short at DHSC
PCS strikes in March. Photo: Jenny Matthews/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

10 May 2023

Large-scale civil service strikes could continue for the rest of the year following a reballot by the PCS union – but staff at several departments missed the voting threshold required to continue action.

The union extended its strike mandate in 106 government departments and public bodies, with 88% of members voting in favour of walkouts on a 52% turnout. However, turnout fell short at several major employers including the Department for Work and Pensions, PCS's biggest membership base.

Reballots also fell short at the Ministry of Defence, HM Treasury, Department of Health and Social Care and the now-defunct Department of International Trade.

The union has been staging strikes over civil service pay and conditions since mid-December, including nationwide one-day walkouts in February, March and April. The reballot to extend its six-month mandate opened in March.

To be able to strike, more than 50% of eligible members at each employer must vote, with 50% of those casting a "yes" ballot.

Employers where members managed to reach this threshold include the Home Office, Cabinet Office, Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The vote means FCDO staff will be able to strike for the first time in PCS's ongoing campaign, as only a third of members in the department voted in the autumn ballot.

Officials also backed action at the now-defunct Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy – which has now split into the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Digital, Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero – and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (now sans Digital).

Civil servants in agencies such as the Passport Office, Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, Driving Standards Agency and Rural Payments Agency also reached the threshold for more strikes.

Some other departments, such as HM Revenue and Customs, were not reballoted as their current mandate lasts beyond May.

Announcing the results this afternoon, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka warned there will be “high-profile disruptive strikes” throughout the summer.

Serwotka said: “This vote shows our members will not tolerate being treated worse than anyone else in the public sector.

“It sends a very strong signal to the government that they must get round the negotiating table immediately. 

“After six months of strike action, the government might have hoped our members would go quietly back to work, but ministers have under-estimated our members’ strength, determination and resolve. 

“PCS members kept this country running during the pandemic and they deserve to be treated better by their employer.

Narrow misses

DWP was among the departments to narrowly miss the voting threshold for walkouts. Its 48.7% turnout was 574 votes short of allowing civil servants to carry on striking, with 20,682 of the 42,511 eligible voters sending ballots. The vast majority – 88% – cast a "yes" vote.

The DHSC turnout of 48.6% fell just 10 votes short. Of the 331 eligible votes cast, 90.9% backed industrial action.

The union's National Highways ballot was a similary narrow miss, with its 48.9% turnout falling seven votes short. It had a lower "yes" vote share, with 73.7% backing strikes.

PCS said it expects to reballot members in areas which “fell fractionally short”, such as DWP, following consultation.

HMRC missed the threshold in the initial November ballot by 750 votes. Civil servants in the department were reballoted and hit the threshold in February.

PCS members working in departments that failed to reach the threshold will not be able to strike beyond this month.

However, Prospect members in some of those departments, including DWP and DHSC, remain eligible to strike under a separate mandate. Non-union members will be able to continue to join them until that mandate ends. 

A government spokesperson said: "Our pay remit guidance recognises the hard work and vital importance of civil servants by offering the highest pay increase in 20 years, in line with forecast wage growth across the economy. This is also fair to the taxpayer and supports the government’s promise to halve inflation this year, which will help everyone’s incomes go further.

"Industrial action should always be a last resort and dialogue with unions will continue. We urge them to recognise what is reasonable and affordable, as the whole country faces these cost of living challenges."

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Cat Little apologises for error over contract termination


Share this page