Get your act together and start serious pay negotiations, civil service unions tell ministers

Latest plea comes as PCS begins new strikes and Prospect warns of more to come
Civil servants strike for fair pay. Photo: Bjanka Kadic/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

03 Apr 2023

Civil service unions have urged the government to “get its act together” and start “serious” negotiations over pay, in their latest plea to ministers.

PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, said Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin had indicated in January that serious talks about pay would start imminently, but that they had yet to happen.

“You have the capability to prevent [the disruption] by sitting down with PCS and working out a settlement," PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said in a letter to Quin on Friday.

“When we met you led us to believe, as have your officials in the weeks since then, that serious negotiations to resolve this dispute would take place but, weeks later, they still have not begun."

Public sector professionals union Prospect, whose members joined PCS in taking strike action last month, said further action is now “almost inevitable” due to “the failure of government to even start a process of negotiation”.

“The government must get its act together and engage with Prospect and the other civil service trade unions, just as it has done with other public sector workers,” the union's general secretary Mike Clancy said.

The government has made offers to NHS workers and teachers in recent weeks, including a one-off salary increase for 2022-23, and 4%-plus offers for 2023-24 after holding talks with unions in those sectors. In contrast, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said in January that the government would not renegotiate civil service pay for 2022-23.

Civil service unions have accused the government of “treating civil servants differently” to other public servants by failing to offer "meaningful" talks or put more money on the table. 

Civil servants received an average pay rise of 2-3% in 2022-23, while inflation soared during the year. Inflation is currently calculated at 10.4% in the 12 months leading up to February.

The government has not indicated what pay rise it is planning to offer civil servants for 2023-24. In January, Dowden said pay remit guidance would reflect “the context of higher inflation".

Statistics from the Civil Service People Survey, published on 31 March, revealed dissatisfaction with pay is at its highest since the government started the poll 14 years ago.

More strikes ‘inevitable’

Civil service strikes kicked off in December, with PCS organising targeted walkouts in organisations including Border Force and National Highways. The union has added wave after wave of action since then, including all-out strikes on 1 February and 15 March.

The union has since announced a further one-day walkout on 28 April for all government organisations that have backed industrial action. It has also announced further targeted action, including strikes in the Passport Office starting today and action short of strike in Defra from 11 April. PCS is also balloting its members on whether to continue the campaign of action for a further six more months.

Serwotka said the level of industrial action being taken "reflects the strength of feeling amongst PCS members on the issues in dispute and the suffering caused by the cost of living crisis that they are facing".

“These are hard-working public servants who helped carry this country through a pandemic and they deserve to be treated fairly," he added.

Prospect members began taking strike action on 15 March across 40 public sector employers. Action short of strike – including working to contracted hours and overtime bans – began the following day.

The union has warned that it intends to carry out further strike action in May and June. Clancy said further industrial action is “entirely avoidable” but “inevitable” due to the “failure by government to even start a process of negotiation”.

A government spokesperson said: "Industrial action should always be a last resort, and discussions continue at official level with civil service unions. We urge them to recognise what is reasonable and affordable, as the whole country faces these cost of living challenges."

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