PCS demands 'significantly shorter' work week for civil servants

Union also calls for cost-of-living pay rise and higher living wage in 2024-25 pay claim

The PCS union has demanded a “significant shortening of the working week” for civil servants with no loss of pay, as part of its pay claim for the upcoming year.

Shortened hours, plus other requests such as  a cost-of-living pay rise, a higher minimum wage and more annual leave, are among the demands set out in the 2024-25 pay claim PCS has submitted to the Cabinet Office.

It comes after PCS backed a petition by staff at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs urging ministers to trial a four-day working week with no reduction in pay. The union said the approach could help address employee burnout, stress and poor wellbeing, pointing to a reduction in sick leave and improvements to staff retention and satisfaction seen in trials elsewhere.

Ministers have so far been against a reduction in working hours for public servants, with the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities issuing a formal warning to a Cambridgeshire council in November over its four-day week trial – although the Scottish Government launched its own trial of slightly reduced hours in some agencies in October.

As well as improved conditions, PCS has demanded an “inflation-proofed” pay increase “plus pay restoration”, and a living wage of £15 per hour.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister John Glen, PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote said it “should be a matter of shame for a government employer” that many of the union’s members live in poverty – which she attributed to the rising cost of living, recent high inflation and years of wage restraint.

The letter noted that departments are forced to raise the wages of the lowest paid civil servants each year to keep up with statutory minimum wage rises. This has effectively eradicated the difference in pay between the civil service’s lowest grades – administrative assistant and administrative officer grades – and will soon do the same for executive officers without immediate action, according to PCS.

It would be “unacceptable” for the civil service’s three most junior grades to be earning minimum wage, according to the letter, which calls it a “matter of shame” that government has become a minimum-wage employer.

The letter also calls for a London weighting provision of at least £5,000 per year, and a minimum of 35 annual leave days for staff.

And it calls for pay equality across departments “on the best possible terms”. At present, there is wide variation in salaries across different government employers, even at equivalent grades.

In an interview to mark her first day as general secretary at the beginning of this month, Heathcote told CSW that the existing delegated pay system – which requires unions to hold separate pay talks with roughly 200 employers – has been a "disaster".

“It means basically all the time they're robbing Peter to pay Paul. They might make a good offer in one department, but there will be another department that's really suffering," she said.

Heathcote also indicated that large-scale industrial action is likely in the coming months "if the government doesn't change its stance on the way it treats the public sector".

“There are lots of issues that have the potential for a dispute. Our members are incredibly angry about the way they've been treated by the government. We want to negotiate as much as we can. But we’ve left the Cabinet Office under no illusions that if that doesn't have a significant impact, we will be back in a dispute situation very quickly," she told CSW.

In her letter, the general secretary told Glen PCS is ready to engage in negotiations and to meet him "at the earliest possible opportunity".

“If the government’s stated aspirations during the pandemic were sincere, that it intended to build back better and to create a high wage civil service, then action needs to replace rhetoric. In order to facilitate that process, we are now lodging our pay claim for 2024 and we call for negotiations on this to begin immediately,” she said.

A government spokesperson said: "It’s important that civil service pay awards are both fair and affordable for the taxpayer.

"The 2023-24 pay award for non-senior grades represents the biggest pay increase in over 20 years, alongside a one-off payment of £1,500 – recognising the hard work and vital importance of civil servants – and public sector workers benefit from some of the most generous pension schemes available.

"This year's pay remit guidance will be published in due course and we will continue dialogue with unions."

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