Civil servants who are members of the government sector’s biggest union will be balloted on strike action over pay, pensions, job cuts and redundancy terms from late September to early November.
PCS is seeking a 10% pay rise for staff; a “living wage of at least £15 an hour”; an immediate 2% cut in pension contributions; no further cuts to redundancy terms; and proper resourcing to deliver public services.
Its ballot will run from 26 September to 7 November – kicking off during the Labour Party conference, a week before the Conservative Party’s gathering in Birmingham.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka signalled that the union was on a collision course with the Conservative Party and whoever replaces Boris Johnson as its new leader and – as a consequence – prime minister.
“All the Tory candidates standing to be our next prime minister want to cut taxes for the wealthy at the expense of public services, so we’re gearing up for a big fight with whoever wins because we believe the civil service needs more resources, not less,” he said today.
“We’re determined fight back. Our members provide vital public services, as was laid bare during a pandemic when the government lauded them as heroes. A campaign of industrial action in those public services will remind the government of our members’ worth.”
The timing of the PCS ballot means any strike action by departmental staff would take place in the runup to Christmas. It will inevitably be framed by some commentators as a threat to deliver a new “winter of discontent”.
However, at a time when the Bank of England is predicting inflation will hit 11% this year, some will be surprised that PCS has not revised its longstanding 10% pay ask upwards. In March, the government published pay-remit guidance proposing that rises should be limited to 2-3%.
Serwotka said the current time was unprecedented for civil servants, with a confluence of issues not just limited to rocketing prices but also taking in the government’s plans to cut 20% of the workforce.
A succession of sub-inflationary pay rises – and years of frozen pay – since the coalition government came to power in 2010 is widely acknowledged to have effected a 20% real-terms pay cut for departmental officials.
PCS is also seeking redress for the government’s failure to apply the cost-control mechanism built into the Civil Service Pension Scheme under 2015 reforms, which is the root of its claim for a 2% reduction in contributions backdated to 2018.
“The civil service has rarely faced such a huge number of challenges in such a condensed period of time,” Serwotka said.
“That it coincides with the cost-of-living crisis just makes it more devastating for our members, whose pay, pensions and redundancy terms are under attack.”