HM Revenue and Customs officials have been given the option to sell their annual leave in a trial taking place this month.
The limited-time-trial, which will end on 31 January, allows civil servants in the department to sell up to five days’ time off for the current leave year. At HMRC, the leave year starts in September and ends in August.
PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, said it has “very serious concerns” about the trial.
Although there will be no obligation on staff to sell any leave, PCS said poorer-paid officials could “end-up feeling they have no choice but to work for longer than their better-paid colleagues”. The union also raised concerns about the consultation with unions and the potential impact on pensions.
“The timing of this trial appears incredibly cynical, given the current cost-of-living crisis,” the union said.
“Many members of staff are facing severe financial difficulties, due to the skyrocketing cost of living; and against the backdrop of the government refusing to offer public sector workers a decent pay increase.
“With incidences of PCS members across the civil service relying on foodbanks, it’s clear to us that although management claim that selling leave designed for rest and recuperation is optional, the reality will be that some members will feel that they have no choice in the matter.”
PCS said the consultation with unions over the trial had been “minimal”.
“We have only had the most limited consultation on this proposal, with the union only being given three weeks to comment on the proposals; and even then, those three weeks fell during the Christmas period,” the union said.
HMRC said it has been had been considering a sell-and-buy annual leave policy since 2019, after it was requested by staff. It said the trial will allow it to evaluate what the department’s long-term policy should be and that it is working with trade unions on plans for a permanent scheme.
An HMRC spokesperson said: “Colleagues have asked for the chance to sell leave. This trial gives them the choice to sell some leave but there’s absolutely no obligation to do so.
“We’ve consulted with trade unions on the trial’s implementation and continue to work closely with them.”
HMRC trial 'completely different to DWP scheme'
PCS said the trial was more concerning than a similar scheme at the Department for Work and Pensions, due to how the two departments manage the annual leave year.
DWP has offered all of its staff a one-off option to five days' annual leave to pay, regardless of their length of service or date of joining. This scheme is also time limited and will close within a few weeks.
The union siad: "Timing-wise, the HMRC proposal has a completely different impact to that of the DWP scheme, with HMRC members being asked to make the decision whether or not to sell leave towards the beginning of the leave year, with (and this is critical) no possibility of buying that leave back.
"If you take payment for this leave now but decide later in the year that you would like to take additional time off, there will be no mechanism for you to pay back the money and reclaim the annual leave.
"As all HMRC annual leave years now renew in September, anyone taking up this offer needs to be mindful that we are nearly nine months away from the annual leave renewal date."
The union said this potential negative impact was much reduced for DWP staff as the department does not have a common start and end date to the leave year, so many DWP members would be selling their holidays nearer to the end of their leave year.
HMRC said, however, that staff can request unpaid leave from their manager if they find they need additional leave later in the year.
PCS has also asked for clarification from HMRC on the potential impact of the scheme on pension accrual. The department, however, said it has already provided staff and unions with clear guidance on pensions.
PCS's HMRC members could soon join civil service strikes over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security, with the union reballoting members in the department after it fell 750 votes short of being able to strike in last year’s ballot.