The leaders of the three civil service unions have jointly called on the government to withdraw the pay remit guidance published on Monday after what was described as a “shambolic and contemptable consultation” on the guidance to departments.
The Treasury's updated pay guidance for civil servants has told departments to limit average pay awards for government workers in 2018-19 to a range of 1% to 1.5% in what the government said was an end to the 1% cap on increases that has been in place since 2012.
Following the publication of the new pay policy, the leaders of the three unions – PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, Prospect chief Mike Clancy and FDA boss Dave Penman – met Cabinet Office ministers David Lidington and Oliver Dowden to protest that the guidance had been issued without meaningful consultation.
In a rare united position across the sector, the union chiefs said that a fresh consultation was needed due to a lack of ministerial engagement, and highlighted that other public sector workers had received better awards.
A 1% cap on public sector annual pay rises has been in place since 2012, following a two-year freeze, though staff in sectors such as health, policing and local government, as well as civil servants working for the Scottish Government, have since been offered cap-busting raises. With the exception of the NHS pay deal, which is worth 6.5% over three years, most pay rises announced so far have been funded from within existing budgets.
In a statement released today, the PCS union said that there was “a frank exchange of views with Cabinet Office officials last night” where all three unions agreed the 1%-1.5% pay remit was “unacceptable”, and would treat government staff worse than many other parts of the public sector.
It also pointed out that ministers had promised two further consultation meetings prior to issuing the remit that did not take place.
Serwotka said it was clear ministers “were unprepared for the strength of feeling expressed not just by us but by our colleagues in the FDA and Prospect as well”.
Update on talks between the Cabinet Office ministers and the civil service trade unions https://t.co/1cqv5Td8KN
— PCS Union (@pcs_union) June 28, 2018
He said: “This show of strength by civil service unions has underlined to the government that they cannot continue to treat our members like second class staff. They need to sit down with us and negotiate a fair pay rise, just like they have with other public sector unions.”
The PCS ongoing pay ballot will continue and the union is looking for “the strongest mandate for strike action in order to secure the pay rise our members desperately need and deserve”, he added.
In a message also posted on Twitter, Clancy said that the unions had given Lidington “a very clear message that the remit guidance must be withdrawn”.
Our message to the government is clear, the new civil service pay guidance must be withdrawn.
— Prospect Union (@ProspectUnion) June 28, 2018
Negotiations must be conducted properly, with the engagement of unions from the start.
Watch our full message here @mikeclancy1 pic.twitter.com/ML9vtTH0yF
He added that this was now a “watershed moment” for the government. “The process by which the remit guidance has been produced this year has been lamentable. It has not been the product of a proper consultation and negotiations with the trade unions.”
He said even through challenging years of austerity, Prospect had sought to engage with ministers to influence and persuade them. However, he said this required proper engagement and negotiation from government.
“That has not been the hallmark of these discussions, and that is why we have made very clear that this guidance must be withdrawn, we must start again and we must find a set of conditions in which negotiations are conducted properly.
“1%-1.5% would leave civil servants at the back of the public sector pay queue and that is unacceptable.”
In a message to members seen by CSW, Penman said Lidington had to be accountable for the outcomes on pay and be judged by how those outcomes compare to those across the public sector.
“As I said at the meeting, public servants in the NHS and Department of Health are both necessary for the delivery of quality healthcare to UK citizens, but the government have decided to value them very differently when it comes to pay. This is only one of many examples where those delivering key public services will be treated very differently from those in the civil service. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
Penman’s message to members stated the three general secretaries were “united both in terms of our anger at the lack of meaningful consultation and in our single demand that the remit guidance be withdrawn and a fresh consultation process begun”. They have agreed to continue working as closely as possible on these issues.
"Our single focus for this meeting was the shambolic and contemptable consultation process on the 2018 remit guidance," he said.
Penman highlighted that departments and other government employers had known since last September that the pay cap was being lifted and they should have used the subsequent nine months to plan to use the flexibilities they knew would exist.
“For all its imperfections, and there are many, the remit process allows for departments to make a business case for higher awards. Ministers need to understand that they are accountable for the outcome in their department. A number queued up last year post-election to say the pay cap should be lifted; now it has, they need to make good on those sentiments.”
Responding to the call, a government spokesperson said: "Civil servants do an outstanding job supporting the delivery of public services right across the country.
"This year’s pay guidance provides greater flexibility for civil service pay, striking a balance between rewarding our hard working staff and ensuring good value for the taxpayer."