Civil Service staff vote to strike over pay

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The Independent Online

The biggest dispute in the civil service for more than a decade escalated today when tens of thousands of workers backed strikes in a dispute over pay.

The biggest dispute in the civil service for more than a decade escalated today when tens of thousands of workers backed strikes in a dispute over pay.

Workers at Jobcentres and benefit offices are now set to stage a two-day walkout next week, followed by further forms of industrial action.

The Department for Work and Pensions is working on contingency plans aimed at making sure that pension and benefit payments would not be affected during the strikes next Thursday and Friday.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, confirmed that workers in five Government departments had backed industrial action.

There was now a "very strong likelihood" of a two-day strike on 29 and 30 January, he said.

Workers at the DWP would be on pay rates starting at £10,300 a year after the current pay rise has taken effect, said Mr Serwotka.

"These are appalling rates of pay for people who deliver first class public services. A majority of members have voted for strike action. This is a mandate to say to the Government that they really must do something about poverty pay," he said on BBC Radio 4's Todayprogramme.

One in four civil servants were paid £13,750 while 41 per cent were on £15,700, said Mr Serwotka.

The civil servants did not want to go on strike but they were "frustrated" about their pay, the union leader added.

The union will give details later of the voting figures among 86,000 members at the DWP, 4,500 staff at the Prisons Service, 150 workers at the Treasury Solicitors, 8,500 employees at the Home Office and 7,000 staff at the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

Mr Serwotka said: "We have sought to find a settlement but efforts haven't been aided by the belligerent attitude of some departments in imposing below-inflation pay offers before members have had their say.

"The people being balloted on industrial action aren't your bowler-hatted Sir Humphreys, these are people who are low paid, delivering key frontline services and in many cases in receipt of the very benefits they hand out.

"The deepening pay crisis in the Civil Service further highlights the need for an end to the anomalous delegated pay bargaining system and return to national pay bargaining."

The union has accused the DWP of under-spending more than £100 million in staff salaries and other running costs, which it said would be more than enough to settle the dispute.

Sir Richard Mottram, the DWP's Permanent Secretary, said that under the department's three year spending programme, any money left over at the end of the financial year would be carried forward to finance a modernisation programme.

He admitted the under-spend would be several hundred million pounds, but made it clear this was not earmarked for pay.

Sir Richard accused the union of misrepresenting the offer as being worth 2.6 per cent when in fact more than 80,000 - over half the total number - would receive at least 5 per cent.

One in four would be paid an increase of 7-8 per cent, while the 2.6 per cent would only apply to 14 per cent of the workers, he maintained.

Sir Richard said it would be "indefensible" if the workers went on strike over an offer he described as "significant".

The union insisted the basic rise for most DWP staff was 2.6 per cent, while for Prison Service employees the offer was worth 1 per cent after previously agreed pay rises and 0.5 per cent for workers at the Treasury Solicitors.

Most workers in the Home Office and DCA would receive a cost of living rise of about 1 per cent after previously agreed rises have been paid, the union claimed.

The DWP said in a statement: "The DWP has made a substantial pay offer to staff. It is worth an average of 5 per cent and is targeted towards more junior, less well-paid staff.

"Despite union suggestions, the department does not have any more money available to spend on salaries. We have a challenging programme of work to help some of the most disadvantaged people in the UK and need to ensure taxpayers' money is spent responsibly.

"In these circumstances, strike action is wholly inappropriate but the DWP remains willing to talk to the union about the overall shape of the pay deal.

"In the event of strike action, the DWP has plans in place that have been tested, and disruption to customers will be minimised. Ensuring that pensioners, people who claim benefits and rely on Child Support Agency (CSA) payments continue to receive the money they rely on will be a priority."