PCS strikers. Photo: Paul Mattsson
PCS strikers. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Dave Semple, PCS branch secretary Wigan, personal capacity

The union’s National Executive Committee (NEC) met on 5 June to discuss the outcome from formal discussions with the Cabinet Office.

The Treasury Pay Remit has capped average pay rises for 2023-24 to 4.5% (or 5% if there is a focus on low-paid staff). The remit allows for individual departments and agencies to pay a non-consolidated one-off £1,500 in addition.

Our strike action has forced concessions from the government, but they are nowhere near enough.

It is not new money: departments are expected to come up with this money themselves. Not all are likely to be able to.

The Cabinet Office has outlined other concessions, including that no change to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS – that covers our redundancy rights) would be implemented before 2025, but that the consultation on cuts would continue.

Although the PCS website says the lump sum is “in recognition of cost of living pressures in 2022-23”, no direct mention has been made of 2022-23 pay, nor of pensions.

There is no doubt that, in a pre-election year, the Tory government would quite like to put the dispute in the civil service to rest. This is leverage we can use to benefit every civil servant in the UK, and to benefit the public services we deliver.

With none of our demands met, and the union far from being at the limit of the action we can take, there is no basis for resolution of our dispute.

However, following the meeting of the PCS NEC, it’s clear that the leadership, under president Fran Heathcote and general secretary Mark Serwotka, has taken concrete steps to stand down the union’s national campaign.

The majority ‘Left Unity’ group has decided that planned reballots of key areas that missed the 50% turnout threshold in the recent national strike ballot, which were agreed by PCS conference in May, have been suspended.

The NEC has agreed that pay negotiations at departmental or agency level, that had been halted to force the government to negotiate nationally, can now take place if the departments sign up to pay the non-consolidated £1,500.

According to the PCS website, already-planned sectional strike action for this month will go ahead as planned.

As a strategy, this fragments the strength of PCS. Suspending reballots tips the balance back in favour of the employer. It stalls any momentum built up by the action so far, by allowing delegated pay talks to begin on the basis only of the 4.5%-5% pay remit.

This was not what activists and members signed up to fight for, in the debates and votes at May’s conference, or in the 2022 and 2023 strike ballots.

The NEC has stated that further talks will be held with the Cabinet Office at the end of June to consider progress in getting all areas to pay the non-consolidated £1,500 lump sum. The implication here is that if all areas get the £1,500 and pay talks over the pay remit of 4.5-5% go well, the campaign is over.

If only Mark Serwotka, Fran Heathcote and the NEC ‘Left Unity’ leaders hadn’t waited three months to call national strike action!

Members and reps will be alarmed that the press release from the NEC is utterly vague on what happens next. It gives the real impression that the dispute could be concluded by a judgement of views at members’ meetings, rather than even a membership vote. Lay member control of the dispute and its progress must be a key demand.

The Broad Left Network, the socialist rank-and-file group in which the Socialist Party participates, does not believe it is the best that we can get.

We should reiterate our pay claim of 10% for 2022-23 and an above-inflation increase for 2023-24. We should serve notice for a two-day national strike, with further dates of national strike action announced. Reballots of areas that did not get over the threshold should go ahead. All ballots should include action short of strike action.

BLN has scheduled a recall conference of all our supporters on 1 July. If you are as determined as we are to make sure we fight on, and build a fighting, democratic trade union, led by socialist policies, then join BLN and attend our conference.

Come to NSSN conference

11am – 4.30pm, 24 June at Conway Hall, London. Registration fee £6

Confirmed speakers so far: NIPSA General Secretary Carmel Gates, BFAWU General Secretary Sarah Woolley, POA General Secretary Steve Gillan, NAPO National Official Annoesjka Valent, GMB Officer Gary Palmer from the victorious #GMBThree