Highways England has drawn fire from the civil service’s biggest union for offering staff a 1% pay rise – well below the controversial 1.5% cap that government departments are currently subject to.
As a government-owned company, or GovCo, Highways England is not bound by the latest HM Treasury and Cabinet Office guidance on pay increases and could choose to offer its 5,000-plus staff a cap-busting rise if it wanted to and could afford the move.
But the PCS union said the company, which is accountable to the Department for Transport had made an “insulting” offer to rank-and-file workers when its annual report and accounts revealed its chief executive Jim O’Sullivan had received a 9.7% rise between 2016-17 and 2017-18. O’Sullivan’s current pay is listed as £402,576 in the document.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said staff were considering all of their options, including industrial action.
“It is an outrage that our members are being punished with a de-facto 1% pay cap when top executives are taking home £100k-plus,” he said.
“When you consider that management at HE are not constrained by the government’s pay cap, it is a double slap in the face for members to be punished on pay and see their own top management laughing all the way to the bank.
“HE need to negotiate a fair rise with the union and examine their whole approach by paying hard-working staff properly. We will be looking at all options including industrial action.”
Serwotka said Freedom of Information requests lodged by the union had revealed a “huge increase” in the number of staff at senior grades earning more than £100,000 “the vast majority male”.
The union said that as of January this year there were 48 HE staff earning more than £100,000 a year, just eight of whom were female. It said the 2017 figures showed 24 staff earned more than £100,000 a year, only four of whom were female.
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union, said the award was “derisory” and meant most staff would be receiving a real-terms pay cut.
“Prospect was assured that there would be additional funding for pay this year – Highways England has gone back on that assurance,” he said.
“We are seeking an urgent meeting with the Highways England chief executive to press for a revised pay offer for 2018-19 which properly rewards and recognises the work of everyone in Highways England.”
Highways England’s annual report for 2017-18 said median staff pay was £33,340, compared with £29,169 the year before. The report said the year-on-year increase had been the result of “natural pay progression”.
A Highways England spokesperson said the company had decided to proceed with the pay award “following unsuccessful negotiations” with its recognised trade unions.
“With a fixed pay budget, there was no scope to increase our offer any further,” they said.
“While this is disappointing, having spent a period of time negotiating on this we feel it is now time to move forward with payment.”
This story was updated at 13:30 on 29 November 2018 to include a response from Highways England. It was updated again at 14:10 on 29 November 2018 to include comments from Prospect.