Civil servants could see exit payments cut under proposed changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme set out by the Cabinet Office after previous changes were quashed by the High Court.
The government was forced to put out fresh terms for scheme that sets out cross-government exit payments after reforms put in place last year were deemed unlawful last month following a challenge by the PCS trade union.
The changes would see maximum pay outs lowered for all voluntary exit, voluntary redundancy and compulsory redundancy schemes.
In a consultation document published today, the Cabinet Office said the changes made in 2016 were intended to ensure that savings targets from reforms to exit payments, first set in 2010, were met.
It highlighted that the 2016 offer had been agreed with eight out of ten unions represented in the talks, (FDA, Prospect, GMB, UNISON, Unite, National Crime Officers Association, the Defence Police Federation and Prison Governors Association) and government considered this had met its requirements for consultation. As well as the PCS, the 2016 changes were rejected by the Prison Officers Association
The consultation also stated that the judges did not doubt that the government had good reasons for seeking to reform the arrangements put in place in 2010 in order to reduce spending, and the Cabinet Office said there are still good reasons to reform the scheme.
The new proposals would cap payments under both voluntary exit and voluntary redundancy schemes at 15 months’ salary, lower than both the terms in the 2016 agreement (when it was 18 months for both categories) and the 2010 scheme (set at 21 months).
It would also cap compulsory redundancy payments at 9 months’ salary, the same level as under the 2016 scheme, but below the 2010 entitlement of 12 months.
Responding to the publication, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told CSW the plans showed the government had not learnt from the court verdict.
“We very much regret that they are rushing into a snap consultation that appears to have made no attempt to really engage, having lost in court. Our view of what they are doing is trying to re-run this as quickly as they can to get the same outcome, and we think that is a total misreading of why they lost in court.
“They were found in court not just to have excluded us unlawfully, but also that they can’t just ignore the views that the unions are putting forward.”
He said that the PCS had an agreement to meet with civil service chief executive John Manzoni and Cabinet Office minster Caroline Nokes, so publication of proposals was “ill-judged and premature”, he said.
The PCS would meet with other unions representing civil servants next week in the National Trade Union Committee in an effort to try to agree a common position, he said.
He added: “But we don’t accept the case for making changes that they’ve outlined at all, and we believe that if they are going to take consultation seriously, they should sit down and listen to what we have to say.”
In guidance on the changes sent to members and seen by CSW, the FDA trade union for senior civil servants also highlighted that the proposals also planned to align efficiency exit compensation to compulsory redundancy terms, meaning these payments are capped at 9 months' salary, as opposed to 18 months negotiated under 2016 terms.
Commenting on the Cabinet Office’s proposals, FDA assistant general secretary Naomi Cooke said the proposed changes amounted to “a major backwards step”.
She added: “This new consultation proposes worse terms than those negotiated by the FDA and seven other unions last year, and removes a series of hard-won protections.
“The FDA chose to take part in the 2016 negotiations to avoid the imposition of more stringent terms by the government, securing a series of concessions in the final round of negotiations which have all now been dropped from these latest proposals.
“We are adamant that the new CSCS should be no worse than the reformed scheme which was agreed in good faith and was backed by 89% of our members in a ballot last year. We will be making robust representations to the Cabinet Office to honour the 2016 agreement.”
The PCS challenge to the 2016 terms came after the Cabinet Office stated that attendance at discussions about possible reforms, following an initial round of consultation, would be “taken as a clear commitment” that government’s proposals would form the basis of new arrangements that unions would then recommend to their members.
In a bid to avoid more stringent terms being imposed, unions including the FDA and Prospect took part in negotiations, but the PCS declined to take part because of the "commitment" that the pre-condition would entail. The High Court judgment said the situation amounted to exclusion.
In July’s judgement, Lord Justice Sales and Mrs Justice Whipple said it was “not surprising” that the PCS and POA were opposed to the proposals and unable to give such a commitment.
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, said he had warned that the judicial review undertaken by PCS provided “the excuse and opportunity the government wanted to table worse terms than were ultimately negotiated”.
He added: “By being determined to remain at the bargaining table arguing on behalf of our members, the terms Prospect negotiated included significant protections for the lowest paid and increased the maximum available for those leaving on voluntary redundancy from the initially tabled 12 month's salary to 18 months
“Prospect will be responding robustly to the consultation and as ever will remain at the bargaining table arguing on behalf of members. We will be holding the government to account and expect them to honour their commitments.”