Whitehall unions will seek legal action against the government’s decision to cut back civil service compensation schemes, and could ballot members for strike action.
In July the government announced that from April 2010, Whitehall redundancy packages will be capped at a maximum of two years’ salary for employees earning £25,000 or more – civil servants who have worked 20 years at Whitehall are currently entitled to three years’ pay – while people who rejoin the Civil Service after receiving a severance payment will have to pay some of the money back.
Ministers have said the cuts will save up to £500m over the next three years.
But unions have warned cutbacks on civil service compensation schemes will pave the way for the government to slash Whitehall jobs more cheaply.
The Public Commercial Services union (PCS), the senior civil servants’ union the FDA, and Prospect union have now announced they will jointly seek a judicial review of the government’s proposed changes.
A spokesman for the PCS told Personnel Today the union had already sought legal advice and “we will be getting the cogs moving over the next few days”. He added the unions could take the case to the High Court in a “matter of weeks”.
To implement the changes, the government will have to lay an order before parliament. But the PCS spokesman said that without union consent, any changes should be made through an Act which can only be passed following a debate in parliament and a positive vote in favour of changes.
The unions are seeking a judicial review to challenge the government’s decision not to seek union consent and to implement the changes with only an order in parliament.
The PCS said government ministers had agreed to talks to discuss the union’s concerns but alleged that these talks have now been cancelled four times in the past two months.
The union’s spokesman said: “We believe that for any changes and for that order to be laid, it needs to be with the agreement of the unions. Because the government is just ploughing ahead with that [without union agreement] we believe they need to not just lay an order, but an Act.
“If they don’t have the agreement of the unions, then there has to be that debate and that positive vote.”
He added: “What they are doing is also unlawful because it’s people’s contractual rights that are enshrined in law, so they need an Act to change that.”
The PCS has also pledged that should the government seek to lay an order in parliament – which is expected early in the New Year – it will immediately trigger a strike ballot for more than 270,000 of the union members.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “The government has an opportunity to avoid legal and industrial action by ensuring officials honour ministerial promises to make the changes through negotiation rather than imposition.
“Cancelling meetings with unions and unilaterally announcing changes has angered staff who will be robbed of their entitlements if they are forced out of their jobs.”
Dave Penman, the FDA’s head of operations, added: “The government seems to have determined that an agreement was not possible and abandoned any meaningful negotiation. Unfortunately, we are now left with no option but to consider legal action to enforce what we believe are our members’ accrued rights to the current terms.”