PCS 'rules nothing out' amid Home Office staff concern over asylum policy

PCS official says industrial solution could be sought to "look after welfare" of civil servants if Rwanda deal litigation fails
Head of Bargaining Paul O'Connor (centre) at a protest outside the Royal Courts of Justice during the High Court challenge against the Rwanda scheme in September. Photo: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News

By Tevye Markson

31 May 2023

The civil service’s biggest union has said it will explore all options to respond to concerns among Home Office staff over the department’s immigration policies, including potentially balloting for strike action.

Paul O’Connor, head of bargaining at PCS, said the union is “ruling absolutely nothing out in terms of responses to look after the welfare” of its members.

PCS is currently taking legal action, alongside charity Care4Calais, against the government over the Rwanda deal and is also opposed to the government's illegal migration bill, which seeks to end unlawful small boat crossings. So far, litigation has blocked implementation of the policy.

O’Connor warned that if this court action fails, members “will want to explore with us whether there’s an industrial solution”.

“There will be no stomach amongst our members for implementing the Rwanda deal and illegal migration bill, and they will inevitably come to their trade union to see if there is recourse to stop it happening,” he said.

PCS, which represents around 16,000 staff across the Home Office, has already held targeted strikes in the Border Force command as part of industrial action across more than a hundred departments over pay and conditions over the last five-and-a-half months.

A strike ballot of Home Office members would be over deteriorating working conditions resulting from the policies rather than the policies in question, CSW understands.

The union has warned of an “acute lack of resources” and staff within the department, arguing that it is struggling with recruitment and retention partly because of “poverty pay”. At its conference last week, memebers voted to campaign for greater investment in the Home Office to ensure that staff can properly determine asylum claims.

Home Office staff have expressed concern over the Rwanda policy, which aims to send asylum seekers who cross the channel on a one-way ticket to the east African country, since its introduction last year.

In an online staff meeting in April 2022, Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft faced a barrage of questions form officials about the controversial Rwanda scheme. The message with the highest number of thumbs up from participants – 224 – said: “Somewhere down the road, when the inevitable ‘what went wrong with Rwandan outsourcing’ inquiry takes place, the Home Office cannot say that nobody spoke up at the time. We’re speaking up. This is a bad idea – don’t do it! I think a lot of staff feel this way. Can this be escalated?”

 in an interview with CSW earlier this year, Rycroft said it is “not for us as individual civil servants to decide, in our own internal legal system, that it is unlawful”.

Last year, the perm sec told MPs civil servants' objections of civil servants were "totally irrelevant”.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Our staff work tirelessly to deliver groundbreaking policies, such as the illegal migration bill.

“This will reform our immigration system and stop the boats, while still remaining party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

“We have always maintained that the UK and Rwanda Migration and Economic Development Partnership is lawful, including complying with the Refugee Convention, and last year the High Court upheld this.

“We stand ready to continue to defend the policy against legal challenge.”

Read the most recent articles written by Tevye Markson - Just four major departments meet threshold for strike action in PCS pay ballot

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