Union floats prospect of new civil service-wide strike ballot

PCS says decision will be taken next month after further pay talks with Cabinet Office
Photo: G Scammell/Alamy

By Jim Dunton

14 Nov 2023

Members of the civil service’s biggest union could be balloted for further strike action over pay and conditions shortly, depending on the outcome of talks with the Cabinet Office over the next three weeks.

PCS has said it is looking to make progress on improving low wages, job security for officials, and the introduction of collective bargaining on pay across the whole civil service – rather than negotiations with individual departments.

The union, which has around 190,000 members, suspended its strike action over pay and conditions after the government improved its pay remit and tabled a one-off £1,500 cost-of-living contribution for officials.

But the move – backed by a ballot of members in August – only paused the campaign pending the outcome of talks with the Cabinet Office. Since the vote, chancellor Jeremy Hunt has made new pledges to “cap” civil service headcount with a view to reducing numbers to pre-pandemic levels over the longer term.

PCS said it was having “urgent talks” with the Cabinet Office about Hunt’s surprise October announcement and a recently-unveiled initiative to increase the number of staff going into workplaces.

Those discussions are understood to be taking place alongside meetings scheduled for this month that will address low pay, collective bargaining and job-security.

PCS said the December meeting of its national executive committee would receive a report on the talks.

The union warned: “If insufficient progress has been made, it will consider a new ballot for industrial action.”

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said measures to offset more than a decade of real-terms pay erosion would be a key consideration at the talks.

“First and foremost our members desperately need pay restoration,” he said. “Even though they are responsible for providing essential public services, they haven’t had a real-terms pay rise for over 11 years.

“In addition to pay restoration, we are also seeking inflation-proof pay increases to address a cost-of-living crisis that seems to have no end in sight.

“Falling living standards for civil servants does not only impact our members. That is why we will be publishing research which looks at the effects of pay restraint on our members' living standards in addition to the wider economic benefits of good civil service pay.”

August’s ballot of PCS members in the civil service saw 90% back a pause in the campaign of strikes to allow for further negotiations with the Cabinet Office.

At the time the union said that while the concessions members had won from ministers were “significant”, they were also “not enough”.

PCS’ original pay demand for 2023-24 was an across-the-board 10% rise.

The improved government deal that led to the industrial-action pause boosted the 2022-23 pay offer of 2-3% with the £1,500 cost-of-living payment, but it did not alter the 4.5-5% average rise tabled for 2023-24.


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