HM Courts and Tribunals Service is facing a new obstacle to dealing with pandemic backlogs after security staff voted to strike over pay.
The staff, who are members of the PCS union working for contractor OCS, overwhelmingly rejected a pay offer of £9.77 an hour and backed industrial action to secure a better rate, among other demands.
PCS said the offer equated to “poverty pay” and was just 27p above the national minimum wage. By contrast, the union is seeking a package of measures including a “living wage” of at least £15 an hour for departmental staff.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said members working for ONS on the HMCTS contract had voted 96% in favour of strike action on a turnout of 61% – comfortably clear of the 50% threshold for the result of the ballot to be a legal mandate.
“Our members are facing a cost-of-living crisis but, instead of helping them, OCS continues to offer poverty pay,” he said.
“The courts are already struggling with a large backlog of cases, and not having security officers will bring them to a standstill.”
As well as seeking a better pay offer, PCS is demanding a £500 one-off payment for court security staff on the OCS contract, full occupational sick pay, an additional day of annual leave, and paid time off for medical appointments.
PCS members at HMCTS are also balloting for strike action over the continued use of the Common Platform IT system in courts.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told CSW the department does not anticipate industrial action by court security staff would have a significant impact on operations.
“Minimal disruption is expected from this proposed action and we continue to work closely with OCS to maintain the safety of all court users,” they said.
The department said OCS has recruited additional staff to reduce the impact of strikes and that temporary site closures are seen as unlikely.
Figures for April 2022, published last month, indicated there were 358,076 outstanding cases in the nation’s magistrates courts and 58,271 in the crown courts.
The Law Society, a professional body for solicitors, said the crown-court figure represented a month-on-month increase and was “very concerning” at a time when the courts were operating at full capacity. It called on the MoJ to commit to clearing the backlog of cases by investing in “the foundations of the criminal justice system”.
Separately, members of barristers’ organisation the Criminal Bar Association have been striking in protest at pay rates for junior criminal barristers, which are said to be fuelling an exodus from the sector. The CBA said more than 1,000 trials had been postponed at the last-minute over the past year because no barrister was available to defend or prosecute in the proceeding.