Hike service

Civil service union to vote on strikes over pay and pensions

Members of the PCS civil service union voted for nationwide strike action against a 2% wage offer at a time when inflation is nearly five times that rate.

With around 200,000 members, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the largest civil service union, representing workers in places such as benefit and tax offices.

The strike vote came as Boris Johnson signaled that public sector workers can expect inflation below inflation in this summer’s payroll round.

The prime minister has warned the cabinet that allowing wages to keep pace with prices, which are currently rising at 9% a year, would risk causing an “inflationary spiral” driving up the cost of mortgages and other essentials.

And he made it clear that ministers are prepared to reverse generous recommendations from pay review bodies for groups like the police and teachers in the coming months.

Delegates to the PCS conference in Brighton have agreed to hold a statutory vote on pay and pensions in September.

Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS, said: “The magnitude of this vote shows the very real anxiety and anger that our members feel about the way they have been treated by this government.

“Voting to strike is a huge step, but the government’s actions have left us with no alternative.”

Earlier, Mr Serwotka told the conference that public sector workers who kept the country going during the Covid pandemic were now being reprimanded by ministers for working from home and threatened with 90,000 job cuts.

“Throughout the pandemic, our members have worked hard to provide essential frontline services,” he said.

“Despite our hard work, the government attacked us. They came for our integrity, accusing us of being lazy because we were working from home.

“Let me tell you, unlike the Prime Minister, we weren’t distracted by cheese. We’ve kept the country running, giving nearly 10 million people universal credit, giving nearly 6 million people time off, keeping our borders open, protecting the roads.

“Then the government came to take our pensions, but we still kept working, doing our part, making people’s lives easier.

“Then the government came for our dignity, Jacob Rees-Mogg sticking post-it notes on the computers, demanding that we return to the offices which later turned out not to be there. But we still continued to work, to do our job.

“But then they came for our jobs. They have announced plans to close 42 Department for Work and Pensions [DWP] offices, ten offices of the Insolvency Service and, just ten days ago, told us that one in five civil servant jobs would be cut.

“They didn’t listen to us when we kept working, so maybe it’s time for us to stop working. It’s time to tell this rotten government: “Enough is enough”.

Recommendations on pay rises for groups like the police, teachers and NHS workers are expected from independent pay bodies before the summer.

But they can be reversed by relevant department ministers, who face the prospect of increases of 9% or more if wages are to keep pace with inflation.

Addressing the regular weekly cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, Mr Johnson backed a warning from Treasury Minister Simon Clarke that awards of this size risk fueling further inflation.

The prime minister’s official spokesman declined to say whether ministers would act to rein in recommended hikes that are seen as too big.

But he said: “The government is already committed to increasing public sector spending and is awaiting decisions from public sector oversight bodies.

“However, ministers have made it clear that the risk of triggering higher inflation must be part of the considerations when deciding on pay this year.”

The spokesman did not rule out ministers overruling review body decisions.

“It was not the prime minister’s suggestion and I don’t want to preempt the independent process,” the spokesman said. “You will know that the government has the ability to do that in a purely hypothetical sense.

“The point ministers have been emphasizing is that spiraling inflation will do more to hurt people’s take-home pay than limited wage moderation.”