Mark Sewotka

Force the Tories to scrap the public sector pay cap!

Mark Sewotka
 Force the Tories to scrap the public sector pay cap!
Mark Sewotka.jpg

PCS HAS BEEN CAMPAIGNING against the pay cap since it was introduced. Years of pay freezes and then a 1% cap have led many of my members to seek second jobs and forced them to claim tax credits. This shocking state of affairs can’t continue. We welcome the statements from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell that Labour would scrap the cap and reintroduce national pay bargaining in the civil service.

The government is weak and under pressure from all sides to lift the pay cap. They are already making contradictory statements with Jeremy Hunt saying the cap is lifted in the NHS and Philip Hammond insisting the policy remains.

Another key issue is that of funding - it’s easy to say the cap is lifted, but if no new money is allocated then it becomes a pay versus jobs argument. We should insist that the Chancellor fully funds any pay rises. He might try to defer the issue in the budget by referring to pay review bodies due to report next spring. However our members - alongside 55% of public sector workers - are not covered by pay review bodies.

They are also trying to sow division in our movement by dividing uniformed workers against non-uniformed, the NHS against the civil service, prison officers against local government workers. Yes, nurses need a pay rise, but so do the porters and cleaners that keep our hospitals running. Teachers need a pay rise but so do teaching assistants and all other school support staff. We should reject any attempt to argue that there are some public sector workers more ‘deserving’ than others.

In the civil service our members perform important work delivering public services - jobcentre workers, staff in courts, our border staff and the HMRC workers who collect the tax that pays for the public services we all rely on. They all need and deserve a real pay rise that would begin to reverse the decline in living standards.

That’s why PCS launched a major consultative ballot with our membership during October. We knew that we had to build pressure on the government and we couldn’t rely on battles in Parliament alone.

When the Trade Union Act 2016 was introduced, there was a feeling among some in our movement that the days of national ballots in the bigger unions were over. A solely postal ballot is an outdated method of consultation and is a reminder of 1987, when it was introduced, not 2017 and the world of smart phones and digital access. Clearly, PCS would like to see the introduction of workplace balloting to drive up turnout and bring the issues closer to the shop floor. As a minimum, though, bringing balloting into the modern era is something everyone should be able to agree on.

However, PCS didn’t accept the doom and gloom. We knew we would have to work harder to reach our membership and we conducted this consultative ballot for just that reason. Using new methods of consultation, including by internet and phone, backed up by a vigorous and visible campaign of workplace pay day protests, rallies and a social media blitz, we were able to gather votes from 49% of our membership.

Obviously, we need to do more, but now we know where we need to do extra work too as we have ensured we get a detailed breakdown of the ballot. This analysis of the turnout will inform our deployment of organisers in the next few months as we seek to engage the rest of our membership. We also welcomed 3,000 new members to PCS as a result of the campaign, proving yet again that active unions win new members.

Our brilliant ballot result - 99% of members rejecting the pay cap and wanting it scrapped and 80% saying they are prepared to take industrial action to achieve it - is a damning indictment of the Tory pay policy.

We have used this result to write to Theresa May and Philip Hammond demanding serious talks and a change of policy. The budget is a time they could change tack. We are keeping the pressure on them with members emailing the hancellor with details of money lost during the austerity years.

We won’t, though, hold our breath for a positive outcome because we know what the Tories are like.

A number of Labour MPs have reacted positively to our campaign, like Chris Williamson who said, “The PCS has my full support in their demands for a decent pay rise. Civil servants have been subjected to an unjustifiable seven yearlong public sector pay cap. The time is long overdue for this government to abandon its counterproductive austerity programme which has seen the value of public sector wages fall every year since 2010.”

So PCS is now ‘ballot ready’ should the government not back down. We know, of course, that we are stronger and more effective together. So we will be talking to our colleagues across the trade union movement to build a united public sector campaign. The time for united action is now and we want to play our part in ensuring all public sector workers get the above inflation pay rise they deserve.


is General Secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union