Mark Serwotka

Public sector workers need an inflation-busting pay rise – Mark Serwotka


‘The pay review body setting such a low benchmark for public sector pay, amid a cost of living crisis, should galvanise us all. Joint campaigning with unions across the public sector will be crucial’

Mark Serwotka

By Mark Serwotka

At a time of a national cost of living national crisis, what this country needs is a crisis response. Families across the country have been plunged into unimaginable poverty and misery by the catastrophic cost of living crisis, but the response from this cruel government has been nothing short of scandalous.

Nowhere has this callousness been more apparent than the government’s treatment of its own workers. My union, PCS, is the largest union representing civil servants and our members were recently given the devastating news they will be given pay rises on average of just 2%.

With inflation now hitting a thirty-year high of 7%, this is a 5% real-term cut to their pay. At a time when our members are struggling to feed their kids and heat their homes, this pay offer is beyond insulting.

Our calculations show that PCS members will be losing out by at least £2,800 a year. This is a huge amount of money for anyone, not least hardworking civil servants who have been battered for over a decade by incessant attacks on their pay, pensions and terms and conditions, which saw their standard of living drop by an astonishing 20% since 2011.

This latest pay offer is already offensive enough were it not for the immense sacrifices made by civil servants over the past two years. During the pandemic, they went above and beyond the call of duty, often at risk to their own safety, to ensure that the public could use the essential services they rely on.

From processing unprecedented Universal Credit applications, to the administration of the Job Retention Scheme, to keeping ports and airports Covid secure, our members were on the frontline and alongside other key workers kept this country going at a time of national uncertainty. To reward this dedication and commitment with such a large pay cut is contemptible.

Our case is far from unique, with workers across the public sector having seen their pay continue to plummet in real terms. According to the ONS, public sector pay will see its biggest drop in value for 20 years. Those same teachers and nurses who were clapped outside the doors of Number 10 and described as heroes by the Prime Minister have been shamefully let down by this government. What our public sector workers need isn’t warm words but rather an inflation-busting pay rise.

Sadly, those workers shouldn’t hold their breath. The pay review body that confirmed the 2% pay rise for civil servants last month was one of the first public sector pay review bodies to submit their recommendation for this year’s pay. So if the government’s pathetic response to the crisis facing our members is anything to by, the rest of the public sector should be prepared for the almighty pay betrayal that is heading their way.

This view is shared by the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, who in response to the civil service pay remit said ‘2% for civil servants in face of 8% inflation and a decade of pay cuts. Probably not a good sign for other public sector workers’. Setting such a low benchmark for public sector pay amid a cost of living crisis – the likes of which many have never seen before – should galvanise us all.

That’s why joint campaigning with unions across the public sector will be crucial. Our members have let their feelings be known; in a recent consultative ballot on pay, they delivered the highest yes vote for industrial action and the second-highest turnout in the union’s history. I do not doubt that this strength of feeling is replicated across the public sector and we need to channel it into a campaign that can win for members.

We also need a Labour Party that can stand up and speak for our members in Parliament. It’s been extremely disappointing to see the Shadow Chancellor, Rachel Reeves, consistently refuse to back an above-inflation pay rise for public sector workers. Working people are struggling and they need a Labour Party that represents them and gives them hope now more than ever.

The support we’ve received from other unions, campaign groups and MPs in response to the appalling pay rise confirmed for PCS members has been fantastic. This support is so important because our fight is your fight; if they think they can get away with treating PCS members in such a reprehensible way, they’ll certainly think they can get away with doing it to everybody else.

  • Mark Serwotka is General Secretary of the PCS Union.
  • You can follow the PCS union on facebook and twitter.
Mark Serwotka
Photo by duncanh1 – It’s No Game on flickr

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