The Ministry of Justice’s proposals to offer a staff a five-year pay deal worth up to 11% in return for redrawn terms and conditions that require a longer working week and more flexibility in start and finish times are “dead in the water” according to one trade union leader after the plans suffered a fresh setback.
Members of the union Prospect who work in the department have become the second staff group to formally reject the deal – which the MoJ calls its “Modernising the Employment Proposition”. Following this decision, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, whose union is currently conducting its own ballot of members on the plans with the recommendation that they reject the change, said the verdicts left the proposals “dead in the water”.
Prospect members voted by 71% to reject the deal, an even more decisive margin than the 65% of senior civil servants represented by the FDA union, as Civil Service World reported last week. A PCS ballot on the proposals is running until August 30.
The MoJ’s 11% offer equates to 3% a year for the first three years of the deal for qualifying staff, but in return requires an increase in the working week to 38 hours and additional flexibilities over finish times and Saturday and bank holiday working.
Although the move exceeds the 1% cap on annual pay rises for civil servants that had been in place since the pay freeze of 2010-12 – and the 1-1.5% pay range intended in the Treasury's updated pay guidance to replace the cap – the MEP deal has been sanctioned by the Treasury because the terms and conditions changes, which also include sick-pay entitlements and mileage rates, would make it self-financing.
The MoJ argues that four out of five staff will be better off under the proposals than they would be under existing pay arrangements, but concedes that the 9% boost in pay that the first three years of deal suggests would only be enjoyed by around 60% of staff.
One reason is the impact of splitting the MoJ’s current A-Band pay grade into the Grade 6 and Grade 7 categories more widely used for senior staff elsewhere in the civil service. Civil Service World understands that exercise alone could result in annual pay cuts of £11,000 for some A-Band staff who are placed into the lower of the two options.
PCS has argued that only around half of its members would qualify for the headline 11% over five years, and that they would still be required to make significant concessions to get it, while others would be worse off.
Prospect negotiations officer Brian Harris said the union’s members had raised a number of concerns about the offer, including the length of the five-year deal, allowances that were being removed, and flat rate overtime.
“Our members have overwhelmingly voted to reject this offer as the uncertainty and price of changes to terms and conditions were too severe,” he said.
“We will be going back to the MoJ to discuss the next steps after such a clear decision to reject.”
Harris said he did not expect any progress from the MoJ until all of the results had been gathered, but believed that a refusal of the proposals from any affected MoJ union would effectively derail the department’s plans and prompt a reopening of negotiations.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said FDA and Prospect members’ rejection of the proposals was “most welcome” and that he expected his union to members to follow suit.
“This offer is dead in the water and department bosses should now re-open negotiations with the unions,” he said.
“Trying to tie MoJ workers into a five-year deal while trying to sneak through longer hours, Saturdays and Bank Holiday shifts with no extra pay and sick and overtime pay being cut is beyond the pale.
“PCS members will not pay the high price for industrial peace being offered by the government and we will resist any imposition using all means at our disposal, including testing our members on industrial action if necessary.”
An MoJ spokesperson told CSW the MEP proposals would provide better pay, modernise a complex allowance system and bring the department’s grading structure in line with the wider civil service.
“Eighty-percent of staff will receive a higher increase in basic salary than if we continued with 1% annual pay rises,” they said.
“The proposals will also help make the Ministry of Justice more attractive to potential recruits and improve staff retention.”
Separately, the PCS, Prospect and the FDA are currently seeking a judicial review of the government’s handling of the consultation in relation to its departmental pay guidance for 2018-19. The guidance sets out the range of between 1% and 1.5% for pay increases, less than increases offered elsewhere in the public sector.