PCS gives Cabinet Office pay-or-strikes ultimatum

Make an offer "we can accept” or “risk more national strikes”, union warns
A PCS walkout in 2023. Photo: PjrNews/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

23 Feb 2024

PCS has given the Cabinet Office an ultimatum for this year’s pay remit – make an acceptable offer or face a dispute and potential strike action.

The union has set a deadline of 5pm on 5 March for the government to respond to its demands, which it set out earlier this week.

For this year’s pay claim, PCS’s demands include a cost-of-living rise, plus pay restoration for previous years, a significant shortening of the working week with no loss of pay, and pay equality across departments “on the best possible terms”.

The union is also requesting a minimum wage of £15 a hour for civil servants, London weighting of at least £5,000 a year and a minimum of 35 days of annual leave.

Fran Heathcote, who became PCS general secretary earlier this month, said the government must either “make an offer we can accept” or “risk more national strikes”, in a letter to civil service chief operating officer and Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm.

She added: “Strike action last year resulted in significant pay rises for our members. We told ministers we would ballot our members again if a decent rise wasn’t forthcoming this year. The government must decide whether it wants to risk more national strikes or whether to make us an offer we can accept.”

PCS held a series of strikes in the first half of 2023, demanding a 10% pay rise as inflation soared to as high as 11.1%. It eventually paused industrial action after ministers agreed to a one-off £1,500 cost-of-living payment, topping up their original offer of a 4.5% pay rise plus 0.5% for officials in the lower pay bands.

Ahead of this year's pay remit, the union is urging the government to address chronic pay issues, including the long-term fall in real-terms pay. The median salary of civil servants has fallen by between 12% and 26% in real terms since 2010 depending on grade, according to Institute for Government analysis.

“Civil service wages have dramatically eroded in real terms due to persistent below-inflation pay rises,” Heathcote said.

She said officials "work very hard for the good of the country, but continue to face declining living standards as a result of pay restraint.”

In an interview with CSW published earlier this month, Heathcote said it was “likely” the union would take industrial action unless the government changed its stance “on the way it treats the public sector”.

She predicted that there “may be some progress made” through meetings with the Cabinet Office but added that “it probably won't be enough to avoid a dispute”.

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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