Unions pause strike plans after breakthrough offer of 'meaningful talks'

FDA pauses industrial action ballot and Prospect cancels planned all-out strike next month
Prospect civil servants striking on budget day. Photo: Mark Kerrison/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

26 May 2023

Two civil service unions have put strike plans on hold after the government invited them to enter fresh talks to discuss pay and conditions.

The FDA, the union for senior civil servants, has halted its preparations to launch an industrial action ballot at the end of this month; while Prospect, which represents specialists in the civil service, has paused strikes scheduled for next month.

PCS, the civil service's biggest union, said it expects the meeting to take place imminently but did not mention any plans to pause strike action.

All three unions are seeking better pay for civil servants, after they received a 2-3% pay bump last year and an offer of 4.5-5% this year

Tens of thousands of Prospect members working in the civil service were due to take a day’s strike action on 7 June, having previously walked out on 15 March and 10 May.  Its members have also been taking action short of a strike, including working to rule and an overtime ban, continuously since 16 March. Prospect said this will continue for now.

Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “We have agreed to pause our planned strike action in the civil service because the government have communicated their willingness to engage in meaningful talks.

“Throughout this dispute, we have made clear that our members should not be treated worse than other workers in the public sector and that they deserve a pay deal that recognises the cost-of-living crisis that began last year.

“We are entering these talks in good faith, hence our calling off the strike action due for 7 June, but we will maintain our action short of a strike and review that position in light of the talks that are promised.”

The FDA said the government offer came after the union issued formal statutory notices of its intention to ballot in 46 employers across the civil service on Tuesday.

The  union's first ballot for national industrial action over pay in 40 years "was intended to send a clear message to the government that enough was enough, as they had failed to demonstrate that they valued the civil service equally with the rest of the public sector", its general secretary, Dave Penman, said.

The FDA announced it would ballot members after the Cabinet Office's 2023-24 pay remit failed to include any backdated pay for 2022-23, despite the government offering this to teachers and health workers and telling unions a similar deal was on the table for civil servants. 

He said the government's invitation to talks "is the first indication that this message has been heard".

“Industrial action is never an end in itself, it is a means to an end," he added.

"All we have asked is for the civil service to be treated fairly and with respect – the approach to pay in 2023 was one way of demonstrating this."

Penman also warned that, the talks are a false dawn, the FDA ballot will go ahead.

“The invitation to talks may indicate that the government intends to change its approach to pay for this year and we must make every effort to ensure that whatever opportunities this provides, we try to deliver the best possible outcome for our members," he said. 

"If it does not, then the union stands ready to proceed with the ballot for industrial action that we have prepared for.”

Earlier this week, PCS delegates at the union's annual conference voted to push ahead with its strike strategy and try to coordinate industrial action with other civil service unions. 

Delegates also passed a motion to boycott delegated pay talks with individual civil service employers unless ministers were willing to put more money on the table.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:   The government has maintained an open dialogue with unions and, as part of this ongoing engagement, we have met with the respective unions to understand what role Cabinet Office may play in resolving their concerns and avoiding industrial action wherever possible."

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