"Health warning" on PCS claims over civil service pay gap

8 March 2010

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 5:  A worker from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) marches through London during a day of industrial action November 5, 2004 in London. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants throughout the country are striking over plans by the government to cut as many as 100,000 jobs.  (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)With the civil service out on strike, the dispute has unsurprisingly boiled down to claim and counter claim between the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) and the Government.

Beyond the changes to redundancy settlements which sparked the dispute, one particular union claim caught the ever watchful eye of Full Fact.

The ClaimOn the Today programme this morning, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka claimed:

"As part of our employment package, it's always been accepted civil service pay rates are lower than all other parts of the public sector by comparison, with comparable jobs in the private sector."

Similar claims are also attributed to Mr Serwotka in a press release sent out by the PCS last week, in which he said:

"According to the Government's own figures, civil servants earn nearly £5,000 less per year than the public sector average."

So are civil servants worse off than their private and public sector counterparts?


Given that Mr Serwotka talked of using the Government's own figures Full Fact went to the Office of National Statistics as a first port of call.

At first sight the figures seem to bear out the claims,  with median gross earnings for the civil servants in 2009 at £22,850 while for the private sector the figure was £24,970. The median figure for the entire public sector totalled £27,686. This suggests the £5,000 gap between the public sector as a whole and the civil servants which was cited by Mr Serwotka.

Yet a spokesman for the ONS told Full Fact that the figures are not directly comparable.

"It is correct to say that full time civil servants' median earnings are lower than the median gross earnings, including bonuses, in the public sector but the two aren't strictly comparable," he said.

The figures quoted above for the private sector and the public sector as a whole, both include overtime and bonuses while the civil service figure does not.

Therefore the part of Mr Serwotka's claim that refers to civil service pay being lower than total public sector pay appears misleading.

Tackling the issue of pay for comparable jobs, it appears that the PCS has more of a case. In the 2009 ASHE data published by the ONS, the median pay of civil service administration officers and assistance was £319.40 per week, while local government clerical and administration officers received £373 per week.

However, looking at administration jobs in all sectors, the median weekly earning for administration and secretarial jobs is £318.20, slightly lower than the administration jobs in the civil service.

Focussing on full time workers only, the PCS case gets stronger. The median earnings for full time administrative workers across the economy is £373.7, while in the civil service administration jobs earn £341.8. Of course this applies to only one area of the civil service so does not necessarily apply across the board.

To complicate matters further, PCS commissioned its own study of comparative pay rates in the civil service compared to both the public and private sector.  The report, by Income Data Services (IDS), acknowledges that direct comparisons are difficult to make and that any figures given will be estimates.

Nevertheless the analysis, which used ONS figures as well as its own research, suggested that in four job types analysed, civil service pay was indeed lagging behind public and private sector averages.

But as the IDS report makes clear:  "There is also no easy comparison with earnings levels in the rest of the economy, as there is no direct read-across with other relevant statistical series."

ConclusionWhile there is no direct comparison the estimates and approximating discussed above do suggest a lower level of pay in the civil service for certain jobs to elsewhere in the economy.

However in claiming that the Government's own figures show a £5,000 pay gap between civil servants and other public sector workers, the £5,000 pay gap figure does not look particularly convincing.

If, as the quote from Mark Serwotka suggests, it refers to the Government's own figures, no such comparison exists.

Full Fact contacted PCS about the apparently misleading figure given in the press release. A spokesman accepted there was a "health warning" to the figures, but maintained the overall point about civil service pay still stood.

"I think the aim of that is to go some way to illustrating the difference between the civil service and the rest of the public sector," he said.

"The civil service always has been the poor relation to the rest of the public sector when it comes to pay." 

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