Plan to end pay cap must apply across entire civil service, Whitehall unions tell May

Unions call for concrete action on scrapping the 1% pay cap for all public servants and just some 'cherry picked’ areas

Theresa May's spokesperson has refused to deny claims that the pay cap would be lifted this month. Credit: Scott Heppell/PA 

By Tamsin Rutter

05 Sep 2017

Public sector trade unions have called on prime minister Theresa May to end the 1% limit on pay increases for all civil servants after “yet another apparent U-turn” from Theresa May.

The prime minister’s spokesperson refused to deny claims made yesterday by government sources that the pay cap would be lifted this autumn when the Treasury issues guidance to public sector pay review bodies.

But civil servants who have experienced seven years of pay restraint, and are expected to deliver a challenging UK exit from the European Union, deserve proper confirmation that they will see their pay go up, trade unions said.


The FDA, which represents senior civil servants, has welcomed reports of “a long overdue end” to the pay cap, but also cautioned that “newspaper reports from anonymous sources mean nothing without concrete action”.

The reports follow a period of confusion in late June over the government’s public sector pay policy, when May’s spokesperson confirmed that the 1% limit would continue, despite claims from Conservative sources that the cap would be reviewed at the next Budget.

Dave Penman, FDA general secretary, warned of low morale ahead of Brexit, with a third of the union’s members considering leaving their post as soon as possible, according to a recent poll. The civil service urgently needs a new pay settlement, he said.

"While lifting the pay cap would be a great start, we hope these reports can lead to a more open dialogue about pay reform that gives departments greater freedom to pay market rates for the skills our civil service needs.

“The civil service must be properly resourced to deliver an exit from the EU that works for all industries and sections of society and that means we must be able to have grown up conversations about pay without the 1% straightjacket.”

Trade unions have long argued that the 1% pay cap was tantamount to a real terms pay cut for civil servants due to rising inflation.

Prospect, the trade union representing civil service specialists including engineers and scientists, says the take home pay for its public sector members has dropped by more than 15% since 2010, while Unite says local government staff have seen a 21% cut in real terms since 2010.

Prospect also claims that the Treasury and Cabinet Office are sitting on independently commissioned evidence that shows remuneration, including pay and pensions, at all levels in the civil service is now lagging significantly behind the private sector.

Garry Graham, the union's deputy general secretary, said ministers need to respond to the frustration of voters and public servants on the pay cap.

“The anger amongst our membership as to how they have been treated is palpable and rising,” he said, adding that ministers cannot hide behind the pay review bodies.

“The vast majority of civil servants are not covered by the review bodies and they deserve a fair deal as well. Ministers cannot be allowed to cherry pick and the civil service cannot be left behind.”

More than half (55%) of public sector workers, including nearly 389,000 civil servants, are outside the remit of the pay review bodies, according to the Public and Commercial Services trade union.

PCS, the biggest civil service union, has been organising demonstrations all over the country against the government’s pay policy, with civil servants in the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and HM Revenue and Customs staging protests against the cap just last week.

It has claimed that civil servants have been the public sector workers most affected by the cap, with average civil service pay falling by up to £3,500 in real terms from 2010 to 2016.

It now wants government to confirm that the pay cap will be scrapped for “not just a select few” but for all public sector workers.

“Pay awards must be at least 5% and there must be a commitment to fund fair pay by investing in public services,” said the union.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, added that the union would form a plan to ensure government restores public sector pay levels at its national executive meeting this week. “Our message to the government is simple: it’s time to put your money where your mouth is.”

Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, has joined calls to apply the pay cap lift to all public sector staff, and pointed out that the policy must be properly funded.

He wrote on Twitter: “Any (welcome) move to end public sector pay cap must 1) Be properly funded by govt 2) Apply to all public servants”.

Public sector pay, including for civil servants, was frozen for two years from 2010, and annual pay rises have been capped at 1% since 2012. The government initially intended for the cap to remain in place until 2020.

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