“At a time when the civil service needs resources most, thousands of jobs are at risk of being axed. It’s a ruthless and unrelenting attack by the government on its own workforce.”
By Mark Serwotka, PCS
The civil servants that keep this country running are suffering immensely. They’re using foodbanks, claiming benefits to top-up poverty pay and they’re freezing in their own homes. This is what working for the government means in 2022 and PCS members are going on strike to end this grotesque injustice.
Civil servants are some of the lowest-paid public servants in Britain and they haven’t had a real terms pay rise for a staggering ten years. They’re losing at least £2,800 each year and they’re also overpaying into their pensions by 2% each month. And now the government wants to cut their redundancy pay by a third. It doesn’t stop there: at a time when the civil service needs resources most, thousands of jobs are at risk of being axed. It’s a ruthless and unrelenting attack by the government on its own workforce.
This appalling treatment is bad enough but it’s been made infinitely worse by the crippling cost of living crisis and the government’s abject failure to shield people from it. The consequences have been absolutely devastating for PCS members: tens of thousands are using foodbanks and are Universal Credit to top up their pay because it’s so low. The despair is at a level I can’t recall in my forty years involved in the civil service.
This suffering isn’t inevitable, quite the opposite. The government is knowingly plunging their own workers into deeper and deeper misery. When Liz Truss became Prime Minister, what was the response of her government just as the cost of living crisis was beginning to bite? They embarked on a catastrophic ideological binge that crashed the economy and pushed millions of people into poverty.
It was an astounding act of recklessness for which the people who weren’t responsible, the workers, are paying the price. It was the same story in 2008 when the financial crisis ushered in an era of brutal austerity. It’s always those who have the least that suffer at the expense of those who have the most.
Workers have had enough and are taking an unprecedented stand. Thousands of workers have already taken action and PCS members will join them after we announced the first wave of escalating action. Throughout December and January, our members will walk out across several areas in the civil service, including the Border Force, DWP, Highways England and the Rural Payments Agency. No member wants to go out on strike but they’ve been left with no choice.
Our action in the Border Force in some of the country’s busiest airports will cause disruption over the Christmas period. Some people will have their travel plans impacted but the disruption is the point; we wouldn’t ask members to lose pay for strike action that isn’t effective.
I’ve done countless media interviews and often asked why the union chose to inconvenience people travelling at Christmas. While I appreciate the nuisance of having to make alternative arrangements, it pales in comparison to the distress of the members I speak to in tears who are skipping meals, not putting the heating on and sending their kids to school with empty bellies. These people are my primary concern and always will be.
If people are frustrated and looking for an apology, they should be demanding one from Rishi Sunak, Jeremy Hunt and the rest of the rotten Tory government. They’re the ones who crashed our economy and they’re the ones who could easily end this dispute. We’ve been trying to negotiate with the government for months but we’ve been ignored.
The government keeps telling us that its door is open but there’s no point in that door being open if there is nothing behind it. There’s no money on the table and if the government is serious about finding a resolution and stopping the strikes, the first step is for them to tell us that there is money available. If they can waste billions of pounds awarding questionable contracts to their Tory mates, they can certainly afford to give the public sector workers languishing in poverty an above-inflation pay rise.
It’s not just us who the government is failing to engage with in good faith. Dozens of unions have live strike mandates and if the government continue to neglect all of us, it makes sense that we should look to take coordinated action. Over two million public sector workers walked out in 2011 over pensions, and with the current crisis of a magnitude and seriousness that is far greater, we can display an unrivalled show of strength that shows we aren’t going away until we win.
Thousands of members have joined PCS since we announced our ballot result and strike action. Our membership is at its highest in nearly a decade and this is being replicated across the movement. We have to build on this watershed moment and deliver the justice every worker in this country deserves.