The civil service’s largest union is to ballot its 120,000-plus members on strike action in the latest action intended to address almost a decade of real-terms pay cuts.
PCS said the ballot would take place from 18 March to 29 April and would seek members’ views on a strike or “disruptive action short of a strike” that would take place in May.
The move follows a consultation on 2019’s pay demand, ahead of which the PCS’s ruling national executive said it was minded to seek 8-10% pay increase for civil servants when talks commenced with the Cabinet Office.
That figure is designed to offset a cumulative real-terms decrease in pay for civil servants that the PCS said amounted to 10% since 2010, when the coalition government came to power and instigated a two-year pay freeze for civil servants, followed by a 1% cap on average pay rises for public sector staff.
While NHS staff have subsequently secured a three-year deal worth 6.5%, and local government workers negotiated a deal worth 4-16% over two years, the “end of the pay freeze” for civil servants last year saw the 1% pay cap extended to 1.5%.
Announcing the ballot, the union declined to put a figure on the exact level of rise it would seek from the government. Instead, it stated that the demand would be “significantly above the rate of inflation”, and needed to be fully-funded, and to result from national pay bargaining.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that if the strike the union was calling for went ahead, it would be the biggest walkout by the civil service since the coordinated strikes over pensions in 2011.
A successful ballot will require both a majority in favour of action and a 50% turnout to meet the legal threshold for action. A PCS ballot for strike action in the civil service last July recorded 85.6% in support of industrial action over pay but fell short of the threshold required.
“Never has it been more necessary to have a well-paid and well-funded civil service than at a time of great uncertainty over Brexit and the serious problems experienced with Universal Credit,” said Serwotka.
“Yet what we have seen is a monumental betrayal of hard working staff in core civil service departments over pay. Our members were led to believe that the pay cap had been lifted last year. Instead civil servants were singled out for unfair treatment and a de-facto pay cap remained in place.
“Our members have had enough and after years of real terms wage cuts, will now be balloted with the aim of launching targeted and sustained strike action which will have a significant effect on key government departments.
“Ministers need to understand the very real anger that our members feel and seek to immediately reward their staff with a pay rise significantly above the rate of inflation.”
Last year the PCS and other civil service unions challenged the government’s imposition of the 1.5% pay cap at the High Court.
Papers released as part of the proceedings revealed that initial proposals by employers for a 2% average rise for civil servants had been scrapped to “manage down expectations” across the wider public sector.
Responding to the announcement, a Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The government regrets that PCS are pursuing industrial action, rather than working with us to resolve the issue. We remain ready to discuss matters and urge them to return to the table.”