Ministers have been accused of wanting to “get job cuts done on the cheap” after the Treasury announced plans to slash civil service redundancy payments by a quarter.
Unions have slammed the proposed reforms to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which would reduce the cap on voluntary redundancy payouts from 21 months to 18 months; and on compulsory redundancy payments from a year to nine months. In both cases, payments would be reduced from a month to three weeks a year.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of PCS, the civil service’s biggest union, called the proposals “the latest insult to hard-working PCS members who have kept the country running during especially difficult times”.
“Coming on top of a derisory 2% pay offer and the threat of 91,000 job cuts, these proposed cuts to our members’ redundancy terms add insult to injury. It is clear that the government wants to get job cuts done on the cheap.”
Mike Clancy, head of the Prospect union for public sector professionals, said he had “no confidence that this ‘consultation’ is being carried out in good faith” as it comes against the backdrop of mass job cuts. He also accused ministers of refusing to meet with the union about the headcount reduction.
“No other employer, public or private, would propose reducing redundancy terms at the same time as savage job loss proposals and do so with the aim of reaching agreement,” the general secretary said.
“We will be working with other unions to oppose detrimental changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and exploring every route – including industrial and legal ones.”
Prospect has also hinted at the possibility of industrial action over real-terms pay cuts, while PCS will ballot its members in the autumn over a mass walkout over the headcount reduction plans, pay and pensions.
PCS said it would make the CSCS reforms a feature of its national campaign, as well as fighting the proposals. Legal action brought by the union successfully overturned similar changes to redundancy terms.
“It is striking that the government appears to be in paralysis and seems utterly incapable of addressing the UK's cost-of-living crisis, yet it can still manage to launch further attacks on its own workforce,” Serwotka said.
He added: “Our members are sick and tired of being treated with disdain by their own employer and are determined to fight back.”
Ministers have been trying to change redundancy rules for several years, and the consultation document outlining the plans – which is not a public consultation but sets the stage for discussions with unions – builds on proposals from 2017.
However, it makes explicit reference to the need to reduce costs as the government enacts its plan to cut 91,000 civil service jobs, as announced in May.
“It is now right that the civil service makes reductions following EU exit and the peak of the pandemic response. The CSCS may be utilised by government departments as they restructure,” it says.
“The CSCS must support departments to achieve both best value for money and fair exit payments for those that leave employment.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “In the context of high national debt and increasing cost pressures, it’s vital that all areas of government spending, including the civil service compensation scheme, are affordable as well as fair to both staff and the taxpayer.
“Reforming the scheme is a longstanding policy and not connected to headcount reductions. We will continue our close engagement with unions on these proposals.”