Unions call for 'simple, fair' civil service-wide pay offer amid coronavirus crisis

Negotiating with more than 200 civil service bodies would be a "distraction", letter to Michael Gove says

Two unions wrote to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove with their proposal. Photo: Pippa Fowles/No.10 Downing Street/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

Two civil service unions have called on the Cabinet Office to offer a cross-civil service pay offer for this year, fast-tracking the usual negotiation process which they said would divert attention away from work to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, the FDA and Prospect trade unions said negotiating individual settlements for staff in each civil service organisation, as normally happens, would create “a distraction that the service does not need”.

Every year, after consulting with trade unions, the government issues pay remit guidance for civil service departments and organisations – some 250 employers in total. Each of these employers then conducts its own pay negotiations with trade unions.


“This can, rightly, take up to three months before the outcomes are implemented and ties up valuable time and human resources, which at this stage in the pandemic should be – and are – focused elsewhere,” FDA general secretary Dave Penman and Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said.

“From those in the vanguard of fighting the pandemic in DHSC, PHE and HSE, to those addressing the consequences for the public in HMRC and DWP, to the thousands of civil servants who have volunteered to be redeployed – or indeed those who are transforming how they work – civil servants are performing heroic tasks on a daily basis,” they said.

The letter, seen by CSW, continued: “It is our strong view that to undertake business as usual on the 2020 pay round, necessitating as it would more than 200 sets of potentially protracted pay negotiations and ballots, is a distraction that the service does not need.”

The change should be an “extraordinary” measure for the 2020-21 pay round, the unions said.

They said that despite having “strong views” on the merits of the pay negotiation system for their members, “we understand the drain on time and resource that this process takes”.

The focus should therefore be on agreeing a “simple, fair pay outcome for all civil servants” covered by the annual pay remit guidance that can be implemented quickly.

“This would have the benefit of freeing up vital resources at a time of national emergency and send the strongest possible signal to civil servants that the government values their contribution,” the letter said.

The two unions said they would welcome a similar approach to the one taken by the Scottish Government, which announced last month that civil servants would receive a 3% pay rise.

Any overarching pay settlement would include exceptions for organisations that are about to undertake, or are in the middle of, major pay reform, they said. “We would, of course, want to discuss with you and your officials the detail of any pay settlement,” they added.

“We recognise that there will be many complexities to be resolved, but if the response to the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that with focus and leadership, obstacles that were previously thought insurmountable have been swept aside in a matter of days,” they said.

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