On Monday, the biggest strike ballot of the year opened, with the very real prospect that 125,000 workers will walk out across the country this summer.
The reason? The pay cap is still in place for people working in the civil service and related areas.
Despite the government lifting the pay cap for NHS and local government workers, the situation is not the same for PCS members working in key government departments.
To give an indication of who these workers are, I am talking about people who process passports, help the unemployed find work, collect our taxes and assist the disabled to get the right benefits. I am talking about people who provide critical support to our courts, prisons, boarders and the police force.
These workers are crucial to a civilised society. They have worked in constantly changing jobs, have had to deal with cuts, increased workloads, poor management in places and pay restraint.
Some of the big flagship polices that we all read about such as Universal Credit, the Windrush scandal and Brexit all effect my members every day. They are tasked with doing the hard graft, often in environments which they have not created but nonetheless, they have to do the best they can no matter what they might personally think of the polices handed down by ministers.
They do difficult jobs in tough circumstances and they have seen tens of thousands job cuts, hundreds of office closures and many thousands are on low pay.
But the very least they should expect is a government prepared to reward them for their hard work.
However they have refused to negotiate with us properly. The approach Theresa May’s ministers have taken to their own staff has been shameful. Last year they told us the one percent pay cap would be scrapped, raising expectations amongst staff that after many years of real terms pay cuts, 2018 would be different.
So to tell us in the last three weeks that they are still sticking to 2015 spending review allocations meaning that in 2018, that only 1% funding for pay is available, is a monumental betrayal.
To add insult to injury the way they communicated it has conveyed a deep seated contempt for their own workforce.
After months of waiting for negotiations to take place, they produced a draft document and by the middle of the week cabinet office officials indicated the consultation would end.
That shows that they have never had any intention of having meaningful negotiations on pay.
PCS members are being used as sacrificial lambs on the altar of austerity. Our members are going to wonder – why does the government not reward their own staff when they have rightly rewarded other public sector workers with pay awards above 1%?
We are not alone in being ready to organise to defend our members both in the public and private sectors.
UCU lecturers held a successful two week strike to win their pensions’ dispute, CWU post office workers didn’t need to take strike action as 110,000 members stood strong and united produced a huge mandate from the union which resulted in a significant victory. And recently McDonalds and TGI Friday workers have all been out on strike demanding a living wage.
Everyone needs a pay rise and so do our members.
With the ballot opening on Monday, I am calling on all those who receive a ballot to send a strong ‘yes’ vote so we can go to the government with a strong mandate and give them pause to think again.
They should be in no doubt that our union will bring the maximum pressure to bear and if we need to call on 125,000 workers in key sectors of society out on strike, we will.
The government can ill afford a mass walkout of its own hardworking staff this summer. Our union simply asks for pay justice for our hardworking members.
Mark Serwotka is general secretary of PCS