Get out of listening mode and put money on the table to end pay strikes, civil service unions tell ministers

Industrial action will not be avoided without "meaningful" pay proposals, unions tell Jeremy Quin
Photo: Uwe Deffner/Alamy Live News

Civil service unions have urged ministers to move out of “listening mode” and put meaningful offers on the table to resolve pay disputes.

Three trade unions have written to Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin after being invited to meet this week to avoid “prolonged industrial action”.

The invitation comes amid ongoing strikes over pay by union members across several branches of the civil service, and the threat of industrial action in other areas.

PCS members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are staging walkouts this week, as part of a cross-government wave of strikes that has already seen action at the Department for Work and Pensions, Border Force and other areas.

Prospect and the FDA are meanwhile preparing to ballot their members on strike action.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said he planned to tell Quin that “if he wants a resolution to the dispute, he must put some money on the table”.

The head of the union, which has a strike mandate at 126 civil service bodies and is expected to escalate its industrial action in the coming weeks, said members “cannot afford to wait” for a pay rise while ministers continue to deliberate amid soaring inflation rates.

“The only other option is to do nothing and allow people to carry on literally being the in-work poor and waiting for some day in the future where this government or another one decides to be a bit more generous,” he said.

“We know what poverty is like. It is the government that is wrong, it is for them to find the money to end the strikes.”

In a separate joint letter to Quin, Dave Penman and Mike Clancy, the general secretaries of the FDA and Prospect unions respectively, said that while the offer of a meeting to discuss pay issues was “welcome”, dialogue would not be sufficient to resolve disputes.

“The issues our members face have been set out to you and the employers in the civil service at length over the last 12 months,” they wrote.

“We of course welcome the opportunity to reiterate those points once again, but if you are serious about seeking a resolution to those issues, government must also be prepared to engage and set out how they intend to address them. Understanding the issue is not the problem here, finding solutions that address them is.”

The two union chiefs said they would “clear diaries” to meet with the minister and senior officials “as a matter of urgency”.

“We must be clear, however, that if you are serious about trying to resolve these issues, we would expect that at that meeting, government will have something meaningful to present to the unions rather than simply once again being in listening mode.”

The letters follow a call for striking public-sector unions to suspend planned industrial action in return for talks about “fair and affordable” settlements for 2023-24.

The offer was branded “hollow” as it hinged on evidence being submitted to independent pay-review bodies, which advise on pay rises for many public servants. However, while the Senior Salaries Review Body advises on senior civil officials’ pay, most civil servants do not come under the remit of a pay-review body.

Clancy and Penman wrote: “We have been clear in the pay claims submitted to departments and in our joint evidence submitted to the Senior Salaries Review Body, that with inflation running in double digits for such a prolonged period of time, treating 2022 or indeed 2023 like any other year is simply untenable.

“That is why, across the board, our members have been rejecting pay offers and in a number of cases are considering industrial action.”

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