The FDA, Prospect and PCS are jointly seeking judicial review of the government's pay consultation process, which they said lacked ministerial engagement with unions because government believed the unions could not be trusted to leak the proposed pay rise figure.
The three unions, representing more than 200,000 civil servants, have launched legal proceedings after the government failed to consult with them before issuing the 2018-19 civil service pay guidance.
The guidance, issued by the Treasury and Cabinet Office in June, limits pay rises for civil servants to a range of between 1% and 1.5%, less than increases offered elsewhere in the public sector.
The government agreed to lift the 1% cap on public sector annual pay rises that has been in place since 2012, following a two-year freeze, with staff in sectors such as health, policing and local government, as well as civil servants working for the Scottish Government, offered raises of between 2% and 3.5%.
The unions said the legal action follows a number of failed attempts to resolve the dispute with ministers. They said the government defended its actions in failing to attempt meaningful consultation with unions, by stating that it didn’t trust the unions to keep any proposed figure confidential during negotiations.
Dave Penman, FDA general secretary, said: “To add insult to injury, the government’s defence of its shambolic consultation process on pay for hundreds of thousands of civil servants is that they never intended to consult us on the new pay cap and rushed the guidance out because they didn’t trust us not to leak the 1.5% figure.
“This, more than anything, demonstrates the perilous state of industrial relations in the civil service.”
Prospect general secretary Mike Clancy said: “By refusing to consult on the remit guidance in any meaningful way, the government has demonstrated a disdain not only for the unions, but for hundreds of thousands of loyal, hard-working civil servants.
“By treating civil servants differently and worse than those employed in other parts of the public sector, the government has shown how little they value their vital contribution.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka added: “Not content with reneging on its commitments to engage in consultation on an issue as fundamental as our members’ pay, the government is now adding insult to injury by claiming it never intended to consult in the first place.
“This shambolic state of affairs cannot go unchallenged and we will now pursue this matter to the High Court.”
A government spokesperson said: “Civil servants do an outstanding job supporting the delivery of public services right across the country. This year's pay guidance provides greater flexibility for civil service pay, striking a balance between rewarding our hard-working staff while ensuring good value for the taxpayer.”
Departments can propose pay awards outside the 1% to 1.5% range for their staff in exchange for improvements to productivity or public services.