Ministers accused of 'treating civil servants differently' as NHS pay deal agreed

Government "treating their own workforce worse than anyone else", unions say after "failure to hold meaningful talks"
NHS staff have won a pay deal following strikes and demonstrations. Photo: Waldemar Sikora/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

17 Mar 2023

Civil service unions have accused ministers of treating civil servants worse than workers elsewhere in the public sector after the government agreed a pay deal with NHS unions.

Yesterday's agreement to end strikes will – if approved by union members – see nurses, ambulance crews and other health workers get a 5% pay rise next year and a backdated bonus in 2022-23.

The agreement was reached after the government offered “intensive” pay negotiations and “additional cash for both years above existing budgets” in exchange for unions halting strikes.

In stark contrast, Cabinet Office ministers have refused to negotiate this year’s pay offer to civil servants and have not made any concessions to end strikes. They have, however, indicated that inflation will be “partly" reflected in the 2023-24 deal, after giving civil servants just a 2-3% pay rise this year amid soaring inflation. 

Prospect, which kicked off its industrial action in the current dispute on 15 March with its biggest walkout in a decade, said the NHS deal could be “a template for unlocking disputes elsewhere in the wider public sector". The union's general secretary Mike Clancy said the government will need to start treating civil servants more fairly for a deal to be reached, however.

"Our members are highly skilled professionals and are rightly sick of being treated as the poor relation to those doing similar jobs in the private sector and other parts of the public sector,” Clancy said.

"They will be looking closely at what the government has offered in terms of the NHS and expect the government to pursue similar active negotiations with them."

Civil service unions held their biggest strikes of the current pay dispute during the Spring Budget on Wednesday, with up to 150,000 civil servants walking out. 

PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, today announced additional strikes in the Passport Office, which it said are in response to ministers failing to offer any “meaningful talks”. It also accused ministers of treating civil servants unfairly compared to other sectors.

Mark Serwotka, PCS’s general secretary, said: “This escalation of our action has come about because, in sharp contrast with other parts of the public sector, ministers have failed to hold any meaningful talks with us, despite two massive strikes and sustained, targeted action lasting six months. 

“Their approach is further evidence they’re treating their own workforce worse than anyone else.”

As well as escalating negotiations with healthcare unions, the government has also offered teacher unions “substantive" talks – albeit only in exchange for halting strikes. Civil service unions, on the other hand, have described talks so far as  a “farce” and and accused ministers of rejecting offers of “intensive discussions”.

PCS members in more than a hundred departments have been striking during the last three months, and have a mandate to stage a further three months of action following a ballot held between September and November. The union is also reballoting members from next week to allow for action beyond May.

Serwotka said the government has had six months to resolve the dispute, but has "refused to improve its 2% imposed pay rise, and failed to address our members’ other issues of concern”.

“They seem to think if they ignore our members, they’ll go away," he added.

"But how can our members ignore the cost-of-living crisis when 40,000 civil servants are using foodbanks and 45,000 of them are claiming the benefits they administer themselves?

“It is a national scandal and a stain on this government’s reputation that so many of its own workforce are living in poverty.”

The Trades Union Congress has also called for ministers to hold "meaningful" talks with civil service unions following the NHS deal.

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Just four major departments meet threshold for strike action in PCS pay ballot

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