Public sector ballots: Why we have no choice left but to vote for action

Mike Clancy · 27 January 2023

The government’s intransigence on public sector pay, their ideological obsession with cutting the size of the civil service and threatening to reduce redundancy terms has left us with no other option but to recommend a Yes vote for industrial action, writes Mike Clancy, Prospect general secretary.

Vote Yes virtual background

The last year has been tough for everyone grappling with the cost-of-living crisis.

But some sectors of the economy – sometimes as a result of industrial action, and sometimes due to sensible negotiation with employers who are willing to compromise – have dealt with the crisis better than others when it comes to pay.

This has not been the case in the public sector – and particularly in the civil service.

Civil servants and other public servants covered by the government’s pay remit guidance have been at the back of the pay queue for more than a decade. That place has been cemented by a 2-3% cap on pay rises for 2022/23 and there is no indication currently that more money is in the offing.

The government has in recent weeks continually said that it wants to talk to unions, including Prospect. But what has become clear is that beyond this rhetoric, they come to the table empty handed and there is still no money available to make a meaningfully improved offer.

But this is not just about pay.

For the last few years – and after a prolonged period where it has been entirely dependent on the civil service to keep the country going – the government has also talked about cutting the size of the service for purely ideological reasons, whilst also wanting to  cut the terms for those they want to make redundant. We simply cannot accept this and no decent employer would make such a suggestion.

Led by our members who are covered by the pay remit guidance, Prospect has been left with no choice but to ballot on industrial action. This is not something we undertake lightly, but it is the only avenue left for us to pursue when ministers bring only pleasantries to meetings. As your General Secretary, I urge members to vote ‘Yes’ to industrial action. 

There are two essential things any member covered by the ballot should do. Firstly, ensure that the POSTAL ADDRESS associated with your membership is up-to-date.

By law, our statutory ballot on industrial action must be conducted by post. If we do not have an up-to-date postal address for you then you will not get a vote. You can check the postal address we have for you by contacting us on [email protected].

Secondly, as soon as members receive their ballot paper please vote. Prospect is urging members to vote Yes for both strike action and action short of a strike. Indeed, when we sought members’ views in the indicative ballot they were overwhelmingly in favour of taking this step.

But whether or not members are in favour of taking industrial action, it is vital that they vote so that the wishes of members can legally be carried out. This is because legislation requires 50% of eligible members to participate in the ballot in order for industrial action to take place (should the majority of those voting support industrial action). If we do not clear that threshold, then the democratic will of the membership cannot be enacted.

Members can also help by spreading the word about the ballot in their workplaces:

  • By telling colleagues that they have voted and asking them to do the same. One-to-one conversations are the most effective way of doing this – so by having a chat in the office, picking up the phone or sending a message.
  • Attending branch meetings.
  • Telling us what their job involves so that Prospect can share the importance of their job with the public. This ballot is about our members, the work they do and their ability to continue doing it. We want to tell their story.

Even if members are not covered by the ballot they can still help by showing solidarity.

It means a lot to people when their fellow members and friends show support for the work they do and for the action they want to take.

This campaign is important for all of Prospect’s members, not just those working in public services. The more success we have with this ballot and with the subsequent action, the stronger we are as a union and the more negotiating power we have in every workplace.

In the weeks and months ahead, I know members will do their part to help us win.

Prospect member on the picket line

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