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Civil servants forced to play ‘three dimensional chess’ to get pay rise due to Tory anti-strike laws, PCS chief says

CIVIL servants are forced to play a “three-dimensional chess game” in their fight for pay restoration this year due to Tory anti-union laws,  PCS general secretary Fran Heathcote said today.

She told the Morning Star that the 50 per cent turnout threshold for an industrial action ballot to be valid had limited the union’s options in planning national strikes this summer.

Delegates at this year’s conference in Brighton will need to make “very careful tactical judgments going forward,” Ms Heathcote said after 84 per cent of PCS members backed strike action earlier this month, but only 62 of the 171 bargaining units balloted reached the threshold.

“In years gone by, we would have shouted a 44 per cent turnout, with an 83 per cent Yes vote in favour of strike action, from the rooftops. And we would have strolled into an industrial action campaign very confident of membership’s support based on those figures,” she said.

“Sadly, what's done for us is this Tory anti-union legislation, which imposed an undemocratic turnout threshold.”

PCS’s “equality of sacrifice” rules have complicated matters, as the union’s strike levy cannot be used to support members on national action, such as for pay.

With only a minority of members — 19,160 —  having met the threshold allowing lawful action to be taken, it would leave them at a financial disadvantage to support an action benefiting the majority of members who didn’t meet the threshold.

Delegates continued to debate Ms Heathcote’s proposals for national strike action by the minority who met the threshold as the Morning Star went to press last night.

“There are real reasons for optimism in terms of the Yes vote and levels of engagement in some parts of PCS, but we have to face the fact that, in far too many areas in recent years, we've either not achieved the ballot threshold or not achieved it consistently,” she added.

The general secretary warned against a “knee-jerk into an immediate reballot.”

Speaking at a fringe event on Monday night, Ms Heathcote said that the ballot had been timed to allow PCS to “seriously influence” the pay remit guidance’s recommendations to government for the 2024-25 pay round, with early indications showing that it won’t be published until July at the earliest.

The normal date of March 31 has long since passed and the “potential for them to kick this in the long grass and leave this for somebody else to deal with should not be underestimated,” she said.

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