Government graduates green-light strike

Participants in the Fast Stream – which includes a significant DDaT contingent – have voted in favour of industrial action

Credit: PxHere

After enduring years of “unfair pay”, participants in the Fast Stream graduate scheme for civil service leaders have voted in favour of the programe’s first-ever strike.

The FDA union announced this week that 88% of its members from the Fast Stream have backed industrial action in the statutory ballot, on a turnout of 60% – well above the necessary 50% threshold.

Close to 1,000 fast streamers could now join the civil servants in dozens of departments who are set to walk out next month in the latest wave of industrial action by fellow union PCS. Among them will be scores of digital, data and technology professionals – with the programme’s DDaT track being among its largest specialist components.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the Fast Stream dispute “has been years in making”.

“It may have been exacerbated by a cost-of-living crisis caused by events across the globe, but its origins are homegrown,” he said. “We have been urging the Cabinet Office for years to address low pay in the Fast Stream, but there has been an abject failure to embrace meaningful reform. Instead, for far too long, the dedication and commitment of Fast Streamers has been exploited. Now some of our most talented public servants have been left with no alternative but to take strike action for the first time in the history of the scheme.”

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The FDA has asked the Cabinet Office for an urgent meeting to attempt to resolve the dispute. The union will announce its first strike dates if further negotiations are unsuccessful, although it did not specify a deadline for these negotiations.

“Even at this late stage we remain willing to negotiate, but negotiations must be based on a meaningful offer on pay,” said Lauren Crowley, the FDA’s national officer for the Fast Stream.

FDA Fast Stream members rejected a pay rise of 3% this summer amid soaring inflation and a cost-of-living crisis.

“Our Fast Stream members have been absolutely clear – they will no longer put up with unfair pay,” Crowley added. “This result highlights the anger that our members are feeling, they are tired of empty promises when it comes to pay reform. I urge the employer to reflect on how it has allowed this to happen and take action now to ensure a fair deal for fast streamers.”

The FDA is pushing for Fast Stream pay to be aligned with the pay band minimum of Cabinet Office Higher Executive Officers by 2024.

The union said Fast Stream members came close to striking in 2019 but reached an agreement with the Cabinet Office that year.

Since 2010, the Fast Stream starting salary has gone from £27,000 to £28,000 – a rise of only 3.7% in 12 years. Minimum pay for Cabinet Office HEOs has gone up by 15.6% nationally and 15.9% in London, according to the FDA.

Last month, the FDA said the government had given up some ground on the pay offer for the 2023-24 year by committing to submit a case for pay flexibility for fast streamers, but was still refusing to amend this year’s offer.

At that point, the FDA said it had exhausted negotiations over this year’s dispute and launched the formal strike ballot, which ended yesterday.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “We greatly value the work of fast streamers in the civil service and we are reviewing their pay terms as we have previously committed to. This work is ongoing. We regret this decision to strike, but discussions will continue as part of our ongoing engagement with unions.”

Cultivating future DDaT leaders is a key objective of the graduate talent scheme; of the 1,072 people that comprised the Fast Stream’s 2021 intake, 100 joined the specialised digital track. This made the digital profession the second-most popular specialism, behind only project-management, which recruited 103 fast streamers.

Sam Trendall

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