23 January 2004
Next week's strike action by up to 100,000 civil servants could escalate into an even bigger dispute.
Leaders of the Public and Commercial Services union, which this week voted for strike action at five departments on January 29 and 30, revealed they could also ballot thousands of staff at the Department for Transport and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.
Geoff Lewtas, the national pay and public services co-ordinator at the PCS, told Public Finance that civil servants at the DfT and ODPM were 'more than likely' to back strike action over pay because negotiations had stalled.
Should that happen, they would join staff at the Department for Work and Pensions, Home Office, Treasury Solicitor's Department, Department for Constitutional Affairs and the Prison Service in walkouts over what the union describes as a series of 'derisory' pay offers for 2004.
All five departments backed calls for strike action in ballot results announced on January 21, although voting was particularly close at the Home Office and TSOL.
Turnout varied between 30% and 48% of unionised staff and, despite backing the strike in principle, union officials at the DCA had not fully endorsed next week's walkouts as PF went to press.
The 'yes' vote gives authority for the PCS to hold two days of strike action in what will be Whitehall's biggest walkout since 1987.
It follows disputes over cost of living pay offers to staff as low as 0.5% after pay progression at the TSOL and 1% and 1.3% at the Prison Service and Home Office.
The union claims staff at the DWP have been offered 2.6%, but officials there said the average rise under their proposals was 5%.
Announcing the strike action, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'We are not talking about runaway pay increases, we are talking about money which is there, which can start to deal with the endemic problem of low pay in the civil service.'
Serwotka said the DWP's underspend for 2003 was £110m. He claimed: 'Using just a quarter of that would solve this dispute overnight.'
The DWP, however, claimed there was no spare cash available to settle its dispute. Indeed, indications from Whitehall employers were that this could be a long dispute.