Civil service strikes: PCS chief rules out ‘pay-for-conditions’ deal

At the Cabinet Office picket line, Mark Serwotka says striking civil servants have already sacrificed conditions "over the years"
Striking civil servants at the Cabinet Office picket line outside the Treasury's offices

By Tevye Markson

01 Feb 2023

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka has ruled out accepting an offer of higher pay in return for worsened terms and conditions from ministers.

Trade unions have often in the past come to agreements with governments by sacrificing some terms and conditions for better pay. For example, unions in 2021 accepted an offer from the Ministry of Justice to increase wages by 9.9% over three years in return for cuts to overtime rates and other changes. 

Asked by CSW at the Cabinet Office picket line this morning if he would accept a pay-for-conditions deal, Serwotka said: “No. We've sacrificed conditions over the years and our view is we want –unconditionally – money now, and actually we want conditions reinstated.”

PCS has already rejected an offer like this made to Ministry of Defence officials, saying in August the department's three-year 12.85% pay offer included "unacceptable" changes to terms and conditions.

The civil service’s biggest union is asking for a 10% pay rise across government; an end to pensions overpayments; no job cuts; and for planned cuts to redundancy payments to be scrapped. PCS civil servants began striking in December and are upping the pressure today with a one-day strike of all members who met the threshold to walkout in November’s ballot. Around 100,000 officials were set to walk out today.

As well as ruling out giving up any more conditions, Serwotka said the union is not interested in negotiating next year’s pay when this year’s award until this year’s deal is renegotiated. Last week, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said ministers would not "unpick" this year's pay "agreement", but unions say they did not agree anything and are still demanding a new offer for 2022-23.

Serwotka said talks with Cabinet Office ministers and senior officials have not lasted very long as the government has refused to make any new offer for this year, instead wanting to speak about the 2023-24 pay deal.

“What they have to understand is if they say to us, 'we'll talk about next year's pay', for us that means the summer,” said Serwotka.

“But people are getting their energy bills now, they cannot put the heating on now, they're worried about feeding their kids now. They don't want jam tomorrow. We were told in our sector they want to be creative, but we don't want creativity. What we want is money on the table.”

PCS has calculated civil servants have had a 20% real-terms cut in pay since 2010, while an Institute for Government analysis has found civil servants at each grade have seen their real-terms wages drop by between 12% and 23% in that time.

Serwotka also warned that today’s strike, which coincides with walkouts by other public sector workers including teachers and train drivers, is just “the beginning”.

The union has already announced further Border Force strikes later this month at Dover, Calais and Dunkirk, and Serwotka said PCS is “planning for some long-term hard-hitting action and more big days like today". The union’s executive will meet next week to consider further action.

Meanwhile, it has ballots underway for departments and agencies, including HMRC, which did not quite meet the voting threshold in last year’s vote.

“I think this is the beginning [of industrial action], not the end, unless the government does the right thing,” Serwotka added.

“If they won't put money on the table, I think you will see this grow and grow. And my own view is the government will inevitably have to concede so they may as well just go on and do that now rather than put our members through the pain of striking and the public through the pain of disruption.”

A government spokesperson said: "We greatly value the work of civil servants, but the PCS Union’s demands would cost an unaffordable £2.4 billion at a time when our focus must be on bringing down inflation to ease the pressure on households across the country, protecting the vulnerable and rebuilding our economy.

“That is why public sector pay awards strike a careful balance between recognising the vital importance of public sector workers, while delivering value for taxpayers, not increasing the country’s debt further and being careful not to drive even higher prices in the future."

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