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Allan Carmen
Job title
FDA rep
Earlier this year the FDA union entered into negotiations with the Cabinet Office after civil service Fast Stream members voted overwhelmingly for strike action over historic pay issues.

FDA rep Allan Carmen – a member of the FDA’s Fast Stream Section Committee – spoke to the TUC’s Solidarity Hub about the negotiations and the recent resounding pay win.

The Fast Stream

London-based Allan, age 28, said: “The civil service Fast Stream is a three-to-four-year developmental programme for graduates and existing civil servants.

“The employer has always argued that as Fast Streamers are being trained, we should be paid a lower salary than colleagues of the same grade.

There had been discontent and frustration with the Fast Stream pay system for years. For example, the Fast Stream starting salary had only risen from £27K to £28K in the last 12 years – that’s 3.7%– while equivalent graded jobs in the Cabinet Office had gone up by over 15%.

It was clear it was time for proper pay reform.”

Allan pictured second left in the group on the right

Cost of living crisis

Allan explained the cost of living crisis brought these frustrations with the existing pay scheme to a head. He said: “People were already fed up, and then the cost of living crisis started to bite.

We carried out a survey of our members – and it was clear from the responses that they were in real difficulty.

We heard about members having to take second jobs just to make ends meet – despite working full-time and training in their spare time. Others told us they were skipping meals or relying on family just to get by. But not everyone has that back-up.

The popular perception is that Fast Streamers are all young graduates starting out in their careers – but a good number of our members actually join later in their lives. They have families and children of their own to support, and mortgages to pay.

These results exposed the false narratives of the Fast Stream. It’s traditionally seen as accelerator roles to senior jobs in government, but because of the complete lack of pay progression, people couldn’t afford to stay on and were leaving for better paid jobs elsewhere. This was hitting our members from lower socioeconomic backgrounds hardest.

Retention is unsurprisingly then a well-known issue for the Fast Stream. Our member survey showed nearly 90% had considered leaving early and nearly half of those who chose the scheme over a better-paid alternative sadly now regretted their decision.”

Indicative poll

Allan continued: “Everything came to a head in pay discussions last autumn. The FDA Fast Stream Committee went into the talks expecting to agree a business case for genuine pay reform based on previous conversations with the employer. But we were ignored.

The Fast Stream was offered a 3% pay rise, a real-terms cut against inflation. The offer was rejected by 95% of our members– but it was implemented anyway.

Negotiations broke down as we felt we weren’t being heard. Our only option was to consider industrial action.”

Postal ballot

Allan explained that the next step was to go to a postal ballot for action. He said: “We have good union membership density here, around 50%, and through our frequent engagement with members we felt we would get support.

The ballot papers went out in December just before Christmas. That was a tricky time to run a postal ballot as postal workers were out on strike trying to win a fair pay deal. And we needed to rally our members who are spread out all over the country and across a range of Government Departments and workplaces.

But the ballot came back successful – 88% of our members voted to accept the offer on a turnout of 60%.

The most crucial tactic we employed to get this result was to set up a WhatsApp group for Fast Streamers.

This needed close monitoring as we had a few hundred members. But it meant we could widely share key messages and quickly correct any misconceptions. This was the first time Fast Streamers had ever been balloted, and a significant number of our members are straight out of university. It was a great way to teach everyone about the balloting process.

We used peer to peer texting software to encourage members directly to vote, and to remind them to post their papers.

We also used social media – posting up pictures on Twitter and LinkedIn of us at the post box returning our completed votes as well as members sharing their postbox photos with each other on WhatsApp.

And we held a mixture of accessible online Teams meetings and in person meetings to keep everyone informed.”

Pushing for a pay rise

Come January this year, Allan explained the FDA Fast Stream Committee were in a position where there was an understandable appetite from some members to go on strike – but what the committee wanted to focus on was leveraging the successful result for bringing the employer back to the table to negotiate for better pay.

He told the TUC: “It was key that we kept the confidence of our members through the following nine months of pay negotiations.

Government processes are pretty slow! We got the ballot results in January – but the pay talks weren’t resolved until September and implemented in October.

We made sure we were super clear in all our communications, we were honest about what we could say to members, and we kept pushing the case for why we needed pay reform.

As we know, over 50% of people on the Fast Stream leave the scheme before they complete it, so we had people leaving, people starting, a high membership churn over the period. And Fast Streamers were moved into different roles and across the country, as is the nature of the scheme, so their details change.

But – we managed to keep up with the data changes and even increase our membership during the negotiations.”

Serious talks

Allan told the TUC that a turning point was the Cabinet Office finally recognising that the Fast Streamers were serious. He said: “Over the summer the government saw we were serious.

Our General Secretary Dave Penman got involved with the negotiations. And at last, after months of talks, we got an offer that we were happy with.

We put it out to the vote and recommended to members they should accept the deal.”

The new deal was resoundingly accepted. It will see some Fast Streamers receive a salary increase of as much as 22.5%, with highlights of the offer including:

  • pay increases of between 5.6% and 12.4% in 2023/24 and 8.1% and 22.5% in 2024/25
  • and a London living allowance worth 4% in 2023/24 and 8% in 2024/25.

Being a rep

Allan told the TUC he first became a rep after seeing problems at work. He said: “I became a rep because I saw first-hand how badly people can be treated at work when they don’t have support – especially if they don’t fit the mould due to their race or sexuality.

I initially joined a union as I thought it would be good protection.

However, I also believe that these problems at work should be challenged and decided to become a union rep to see what I could do.

I am surprised now how much of a difference I’ve been able to make at work. Being a rep is one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

Welcoming the offer, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman said that a “transformative” pay deal had been required after “years of pay stagnation and record attrition”.

He paid tribute to the dedication of the FDA’s Fast Stream Committee in delivering the overwhelming ballot result earlier in the year.

As a result of the deal, Penman said: “Current Fast Streamers will see significant pay hikes over the next two years. We hope that attrition rates fall and investment in these incredibly talented, inspiring public servants will deliver better services in the future.”

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