Unions prepare to launch judicial review as civil service pay guidance row escalates

Cabinet Office must withdraw pay guidance by Thursday afternoon avoid legal action, unions tell government

Credit: PA

By Richard Johnstone

17 Jul 2018

Three unions representing civil servants have today said they will initiate a judicial review of the government’s pay policy this week unless the guidance issued last month that would limit increases to an average of 1.5% is withdrawn.

In an escalation of the unions’ dispute with the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka, Prospect chief Mike Clancy and FDA boss Dave Penman have said that the unions “cannot accept” the lack of consultation over the pay rules, issued on 26 June.

The guidance told departments to limit average pay awards for government workers in 2018-19 to a range of 1%-1.5%, in what the government said was an end to the 1% cap on increases in place since 2012, but which represents a lower settlement than many other parts of the public sector.


Following the publication of the guidance, the union chiefs said that a fresh consultation was needed due to a lack of ministerial engagement with unions, including promised consultation meetings that did not take place. They called on Cabinet Office minister David Lidington to withdraw the pay policy.

After this request was turned down, the unions last week wrote to chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss to seek an urgent meeting but, in a statement published this afternoon, they revealed that no response has been received.

“We cannot accept the lack of meaningful consultation,” the three union leaders wrote, adding that this has now led to the prospect of the government being subject to legal action from all three unions representing their civil servants if the policy is not withdrawn by 4pm on Thursday, 19 July.

“Accordingly, our lawyers have today written to the minister for the Cabinet Office to request that they withdraw the civil service pay guidance and undertake a process of appropriate consultation, and in the absence of an appropriate response we will be issuing proceedings for judicial review,” they stated.

“As general secretaries, we have agreed to continue working as closely as possible on these issues for the common good of our members. Whilst each union will clearly have to determine their own objectives and strategy for delivering them, we are committed to pursuing this matter together.”

'Headlong rush'

Penman said that some departments were in a “headlong rush to impose the cap on civil service pay set out in the pay guidance”, meaning the guidance had to be withdrawn by Thursday’s deadline.

“This is not a decision we have taken lightly,” he said. “The involvement of the courts in industrial relations practice is usually a sign of failure, that is certainly the case here.

“We have tried every reasonable approach to engage with ministers sensibly but have been rebuffed at every turn.

“They must now recognise that they have one last chance to do what every progressive employer should: engage those that represent their staff in a meaningful way for mutual benefit. If not, we remain ready and willing to act.”

Serwotka, whose union is already balloting its 140,000 members on industrial action over the government’s pay policy, said that members have run out of patience.

“They have had enough of ministers making false promises of lifting the pay cap and having a meaningful consultation, only to be told the de-facto pay cap will remain,” he said.

“Theresa May is treating hardworking government staff in the civil service and related areas like second class workers. She lifted the pay cap for NHS and local government workers but our members are left languishing on a derisory pay cap.

“The judicial review is an unprecedented show of unity from the civil service unions and shows how angry people are.”

Clancy added that the government had “insulted thousands of civil servants delivering critical national projects such as Brexit” through its pay offer.

“In September last year Truss announced the public sector pay cap was to be lifted. For the civil service – the 1% cap has been replaced with a cap in the range of 1-1.5%. In contrast to other parts of the public sector the civil service has been singled out for particularly harsh treatment. Members rightly see this 'movement' as derisory and that they are being treated with contempt."

“So today we have issued proceedings to launch a judicial review challenging the lawfulness of the government’s decision. The government’s position and unwillingness to negotiate has left us with no choice but to seek alternative means of addressing the issue for our members.”

The Cabinet Office confirmed that it had received a letter under the judicial teview pre-action protocol and would be responding formally. 

A spokesperson told CSW: “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 hardworking staff while ensuring good value for the taxpayer.”

The most recent judicial review the government faced from a civil service union was PCS’s successful challenge over the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, which led to changes to the guidance, introduced in November 2016, to be quashed.

High Court judges found former Cabinet Office minister Ben Gummer had acted unlawfully by excluding some unions, including PCS, from negotiations over redundancy terms, after the Cabinet Office said participation would be “taken as a clear commitment” that the government’s proposals would form the basis of new arrangements that unions would then recommend to their members.

However, this challenge did not include Prospect or the FDA, both of which had participated in the talks.

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