The civil service’s biggest union is balloting members at HM Courts and Tribunals Service on concerns about the rollout of the Common Platform IT system, which it says is placing 3,000 jobs at risk.
PCS said the new digital case-management system for the courts – which is accessible by the judiciary, solicitors and barristers, the Crown Prosecution Service and court staff – is not fit for purpose and has sent work-related stress and anxiety levels among officials “through the roof”.
It said that since introduction of the platform commenced in September last year, the system has been beset by technical problems and delays that have slowed the progress of cases, adding to backlogs caused by Covid-19 and staff shortages.
The union has this week launched a consultative ballot that asks court staff whether a stop should be put to new cases being added to Common Platform and urges them to support PCS’s demands for “proper health and safety checks” for the system.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said a strike ballot could follow the current exercise, which runs until 2 December.
“HMCTS have launched a system which is not fit for purpose and has caused staff huge levels of stress and anxiety,” he said.
“Instead of dealing with the real problems in the justice system, such as staff shortages and court closures, they are relying on a flawed system to muddle through.
“This won't wash with the thousands of our members who are set to lose their jobs because of the Common Platform. They have had enough and will now have their voice heard.”
HMCTS disputed the “jobs at risk figure” used by PCS. It said the union’s numbers do not tally with projections made at the beginning of the reform programme and that current expectations for job losses are “far lower”.
“We are committed to working with staff and unions on the rollout of the Common Platform, and do not recognise the number of job losses quoted,” an HMCTS spokesperson said.
“The welfare of our staff is a priority and they have been involved from the start in designing and implementing a system that will revolutionise the way that the criminal justice system is administered.”
HMCTS added that when Common Platform is fully implemented, it will cut down on duplication and unnecessary wasted time for admin teams, freeing up resources for “things that really matter”.
The service said any reduction in headcount will be “minimal” because of the use of temporary staff in recent years, maximising redeployment and plans not to recruit for vacancies once they arise.
PCS told CSW that the 3,000 figure was one it had been given by HMCTS at the start of its reform programme and that it had not been provided with updated figures that could be published.