Government plans to cut civil service redundancy packages are unlawful and must now be renegotiated, the High Court has ruled.
The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) has won a judicial review of the government’s proposals to reduce payments made to redundant civil servants under the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS).
Mr Justice Sales today ruled the government had acted unlawfully when it introduced, without the PCS’s agreement, a new redundancy scheme reducing the rights staff had accrued over time, and the changes must now be redrafted.
The government had hoped to impose the revised CSCS from 1 April in a bid to make up to £500m worth of Whitehall savings in the next three years.
The government intended to change the scheme so that Whitehall severance pay would be capped at a maximum of two years’ salary for employees earning £25,000 or more (civil servants who have worked in Whitehall for 20 years are currently entitled to three years’ pay) while people who rejoin the Civil Service after receiving a severance payment will be required to pay some of the money back.
It was feared that the government planned to rush through the changes ahead of deep Civil Service job cuts.
Richard Arthur, head of trade union law at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “The law says that the government can’t change redundancy rights which have already accrued for civil servants unless the unions agree. As the judge said, this was unsurprising in the circumstances of civil service employment. PCS did not agree to the new scheme and so it was found to be unlawful.”
The PCS sought a judicial review after alleging the government had not consulted unions over the changes.
To make any changes to the CSCS, the new government will now have to redraft the proposals and reopen negotiations with the unions.
The PCS welcomed the ruling as a “major victory”, saying if the changes had been allowed they would have “robbed civil servants of thousands of pounds if they were forced out of their job”.
The union warned the failure of a new government to comply with the ruling would lead to the possibility of further industrial action. The planned cuts to the CSCS have already resulted in three days of strikes by civil servants in March.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: “We have always accepted that changes are necessary, but all we ever asked is that they were fair and protected those who have given loyal service.
“We will now be knocking on the door of the next government to remind ministers they are legally obliged to reach an agreement with us. If they do not meet their obligations, the union will have to consider further industrial and legal action.”