The PCS union has slammed proposals from HM Revenue and Customs to offer officials the opportunity to have guaranteed extra hours built into their contract.
The union said the scheme, for customer services staff, has been made without any meaningful consultation with PCS, and is the third HMRC initiative this year “aimed at wringing yet more out of an already under-pressure workforce”.
It has urged its members to not sign up to the offer, accusing HMRC of taking advantage of low-paid civil servants.
“At a time when almost one-third of HMRC staff are on the National Minimum Wage, this latest scheme bears all the hallmarks of an employer looking to capitalise on the hardship being created by the cost-of-living crisis, to encourage some of its lowest-paid staff to work longer and longer hours."
Rather than trying to persuade low-paid members of staff to work extra hours with less flexibility, HMRC should employ "enough people to do the work that needs doing", PCS said.
The union said HMRC can do this by employing additional staff on a part-year appointment basis, like the Passport Office, for busy periods.
Those signing up to the scheme would have their contract of employment changed to require them to work more hours during the weeks or months that the department considers to be periods of highest demand, according to PCS. There would also be no special rate of pay for the extra hours, according to PCS.
The union said it is difficult to see how such a working pattern would be compatible with staff also being able to take advantage of the flexible working hours system introduced under 2021 reforms, which have allowed officials to vary the hours and times they work and build up flexi-leave.
“Furthermore, as these extra hours will form part of your contract, they won’t be optional; so if you later find working the extra hours is too much for you, you’ll need HMRC’s permission to change your contract back to normal full-time working hours,” the union added.
PCS said the proposal is the third pilot HMRC has proposed in the last six months aimed at getting officials to work more hours, following on from schemes encouraging officials to sell their annual leave and move from flexible working hours to annualised working hours.
It said the department's customer services group management was attempting to change the measures it said it required to deliver the service as part of the 2021 pay and contract reform agreement just two years ago.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “We are in the very early stages of understanding whether there’s an appetite amongst colleagues for working guaranteed additional hours. It’s too early to assume that we will take this forward, as we need to gather the views of our colleagues first and we will continue to consult with the civil service unions.”