The biggest civil service union has confirmed it will press ahead with a ballot on strike action after being told by the government that civil servants’ pay will be set in line with the 2015 spending review.
The Public and Commercial Services union said it was a “disgrace” that government had decided to maintain the 1% cap on civil service pay that has been in place since 2012, following a two-year freeze, at a time when it is being loosened for other parts of the public sector.
Union officials were told this week that the consultation process on pay was nearly at an end, and the Cabinet Office confirmed that the pay deal will be announced in due course.
PCS, which has 200,000 members who largely work in government or privatised or outosurced services, was also furious that the consultation period was shorter than they had expected. The union was not provided with the proposed pay figures until Monday, it said.
Cabinet Office officials met with union representatives in March, but PCS said it was only provided with an overview of plans for pay in 2018-19 and no figures.
The union has now been told that the civil service pay offer is to be based on the 2015 spending review, which budgeted for a 1% annual rise until 2019.
Last autumn the government signalled there would be an end to the public sector pay cap. The Treasury informed pay review bodies that despite the continued need for pay discipline, the government was willing to be flexible on the pay cap particularly in areas of skills shortage and in exchange for productivity gains.
Around 55% of public sector staff, including a majority of civil servants, are not covered by a pay review body.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, following talks with Cabinet Office officials, said: “Our members feel misled and betrayed because assurances were made by ministers that the 1% pay policy was ending and that money would be found to reward staff for their hard work.
“However, officials admitted they were using spending budgets from three years ago, despite finding money for all sorts of other issues since 2015.”
The Cabinet Office told Civil Service World that the government had moved away from an “across the board” public sector pay policy of 1% average pay awards.
The Treasury has agreed to fund pay increases in other areas of the public sector, including a 6.5% over three years for NHS staff from 2017-18. A 4% rise for Scottish civil servants was agreed in 2018-19. Police officers and prison officers were offered 2% and 1.7% pay rises respectively for 2017-18, but they were to be paid for from within existing budgets.
Serwotka added: “It is astonishing that the government singles out its own hard working and committed staff for a derisory 1% when they have rightly offered higher pay rises to other public sector workers.
“It is a disgrace and shows utter contempt for the vital work these people do particularly in a climate of cuts, modernisation and Brexit.”
He also said PCS had favoured a negotiated settlement but that “it is now clear that ministers are not interested”.
The PCS ballot on industrial action will run from 18 June to 23 July. A poll run last year by the union to gauge support for industrial action found that 80% of civil servants were prepared to strike if the government refused to lift the cap.
The union said 150,000 staff could walk out over summer, causing risks to the continuation of public services in areas such as passport and tax offices, prisons, benefit centres that deal with Universal Credit, border guards and law courts.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “Industrial action is always a matter of regret, and we would encourage the PCS to continue to talk with officials to explore the possibilities of reform to civil service pay arrangements going forward.
“We want to ensure that civil servants are rightly rewarded for the work that they do, while ensuring we maintain a carefully managed pay framework over the coming years in order to maintain the affordability of public services.
“The publication of the civil service pay deal will be announced in due course.”