The government will pay out £3m in damages to the Public and Commercial Services Union after a successful legal challenge against the Department for Work and Pensions move to stop unions withdrawing membership fees directly from paychecks.
Ministers agreed the payment in an out-of-court settlement, following a long-running dispute that began when several government departments scrapped the ‘check-off’ system for paying union subscriptions.
DWP, HM Revenue and Customs and the Home Office were among the many major departments that stopped offering check-off in 2015. The move was linked to plans announced by the then Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude to end check-off for public sector workers under the trade union bill. PCS, which collected 90% of its income via check-off at the time, interpreted the move as an attempt to gut trade unions’ funding, saying it made it more complicated for members to sign up.
The government abandoned its check-off plans in 2016, but it was left up to individual government departments to decide whether to continue with the system or not.
PCS’s financial records show the union lost 37,000 members in 2015, a 16% drop, amounting to a £3m drop in funding. The settlement is the outcome of a High Court case brought by two PCS members. It follows a legal victory for the union in May 2016, when the court ruled DWP’s ending of check-off without the agreement of its staff was unlawful.
“This is an unprecedented, multi- million pound compensation payment by a government to a trade union. The removal of checkoff was politically motivated, aimed at undermining the union’s ability to defend its members’ jobs and to effectively oppose the Tory government’s devastating austerity programme,” PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said.
The union is now planning to take legal action against every major government department that ended check-off, Serwotka added.
“Today’s announcement tells us we have settled one departmental case on union busting, we have many more to come. That’s good news for all of us, and now we’ll ensure we use that money to benefit our members.” he said.
CSW has contacted DWP for comment.