The Public and Commercial Services trade union has announced that it will seek authorisation for a possible civil service strike over government pay restrictions during its annual conference next month.
The union, which is the largest in Whitehall and has an estimated 185,108 members, said that the ballot would come after the Cabinet Office rejected the union’s call for a 5% pay increase for civil servants.
Union general secretary Mark Serwotka said the union has been in talks with the Cabinet Office as recently as last month, but the government has confirmed it has only provided funding for a 1% pay rise for civil servants, in line with the cap that has been in place since 2012.
Other parts of the public sector have recently received higher increases, including a 6.5% three-year deal for NHS staff, a 2% rise in 2017-18 for local government works, a 2% pay boost for police officers and the 1.7% rise for prison officers. Apart from the NHS pay deal, the increases are being funded out of existing budgets.
The union also highlighted that it had negotiated a pay deal with the Scottish Government that will see civil servants receive an increase above the rate of inflation, up to as much as 4%.
Serwotka said when PCS members working in essential parts of the economy saw pay deals above 1% being offered to health and local government workers, “they want to know when they will get pay justice”.
According to a PCS analysis, the 1% cap that has been in place since 2012 – and which followed a two-year wage freeze – has meant that civil service pay fell by an average of 9% in real terms, marking a larger fall than the rest of the public sector and the wider economy. Living standards have also been hit by higher pension contributions and an increase in workload due to policy issues such as Brexit and the roll out of Universal Credit, the union said.
“We believe a 5% pay rise is not only fair and just but affordable, if the government closes the £119bn tax gap and funds the public sector properly," Serwotka added,
The vote will be held at the PCS annual conference in Brighton from 22-24 May and will seek endorsement for a national ballot on strike action.
The union called for the 5% increase – or £1,200 where that would be greater – in January after warning late last year that it was getting strike ready.
It also held a consultative ballot on industrial action over pay in October and November, which found close on 80% of members who voted signalling their support for strike action, based on a 49% turnout. It also saw 99% of respondents calling for the pay cap to be scraped and for funds to be found to provide above-inflation pay rises.
In the confirmation of the statutory ballot today, PCS also called for a minimum £10 per hour for all civil service staff, regardless of whether they have been contracted out, and the return of national pay bargaining with the Cabinet Office, as opposed to delegated pay agreements with departments.
In the event of a vote in favour of a strike, no action will be taken until the talks with the Cabinet Office have concluded, and there would be widespread consultation on whether to proceed with action and the form it would take. This would be the first national strike held by PCS since July 2014.