The announcement of changes to civil service redundancy payments made today by the Cabinet Office is an outrageous breach of faith with the unions, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said on Friday.
Following proposals announced in July to cut the terms of the compensation scheme, ministers had promised to instruct officials to meet PCS and other civil service unions to discuss our concerns.
But that ministerial commitment appears to have been undermined by senior officials, as over the past two months four scheduled meetings were cancelled.
The government now risks squandering the opportunity to prevent what could be a damaging national dispute.
A limited improvement to the original plans – to cap payments at three years or £50,000, instead of two years – was only made after pressure by the union and because of the thousands of responses from PCS members to the government’s consultation.
Also, 35,000 PCS members have attended workplace meetings organised by the union to express their opposition to the government’s proposals.
The changes will still rob low-paid staff of their entitlements if they are forced to leave their jobs
PCS’s ruling national executive committee is due to meet tomorrow, Tuesday 8 December, to consider possible legal and industrial action.
The changes are due to be implemented in April 2010, one month before a likely general election.
PCS is particularly concerned that the proposals pave the way for a massive job cuts programme as the government can only save its intended £500m by making thousands of members of its own workforce compulsorily redundant.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘For the Cabinet Office to announce these changes as a fait accompli, without informing us or seeking to reach an agreement, shows an outrageous lack of respect for hard-working civil servants.
‘After ministers had shown a willingness to talk, it is appalling that they appear to have allowed senior officials to lead them into a damaging dispute with hundreds of thousands of their own staff months before a general election, when an agreement was in fact possible.
‘We sincerely hope ministers will meet us urgently to discuss ways of avoiding that dispute.’
The PCS posted a statement for members on its website ‘on today’s announcement on the civil service compensation scheme’.
It said: ‘Members will be aware that civil service management have today unilaterally announced changes to the civil service compensation scheme that are to be implemented in April 2010.
‘This has not been agreed with the civil service unions, despite the lengthy process of discussions and consultation that has taken place on this issue.
‘All the CCSU (Council of Civil Service unions) are outraged that these announcements have been made at the same time as a meeting was being held at the Cabinet Office.
‘No attempt has been made to reach an agreement despite previous ministerial commitments that talks would take place.
‘This displays bad faith and a shocking lack of respect for civil service staff. The PCS national executive will meet next Tuesday to consider our response.
‘In the meantime, we shall be consulting our lawyers on legal action to stop the process and demanding a meeting with Tessa Jowell, Cabinet Office minister.’
An earlier statement said: ‘As a result of PCS parliamentary campaigning on the civil service compensation scheme the issue was raised on Wednesday in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Question Time.
‘PCS members had contacted Dai Havard MP (Labour, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) as part of our campaign to defend members’ entitlements.
‘Havard expressed his concern to the prime minister that the proposals to change the CSCS (Civil Service Compensation Scheme) were being used to slash the entitlements for lower paid staff.
‘He asked that no legislation would be introduced until an agreement was made with the unions.
‘Gordon Brown did not answer the question directly but argued that changes to the system were required.
‘Our national executive committee has agreed that we should continue to pursue discussions with the employer with the aim of finding an acceptable agreement.
‘However, the civil service unions have had to write to ministers expressing our concern at the lack of progress in negotiations so far.
‘Therefore, we must also prepare for legal action and industrial action should talks fail to produce an acceptable outcome.
‘Well over 1,000 members have already written to their MP on the issue, in addition to the 18,000 who responded to the Cabinet Office consultation and 35,000 who attended PCS briefings on the topic.
‘We are continuing to call on all members to contact their local MPs to oppose the government’s proposals which need to be approved by parliament.
‘Clearly, the lobbying carried out so far has had an effect. We must keep up the pressure.
‘Please write to your MP, or email using the facility on this website and attend his or her surgery making clear you oppose the government’s proposals.’
• The Unite trade union said on Friday it is ‘outraged by Cabinet Office minister Tessa Jowell’s unilateral decision today to impose a settlement on over 25,000 civil servants that will be implemented in April 2010.
‘This is despite an overwhelming rejection by the civil service workers to the changes to the Civil Service Compensation Scheme, the civil service’s redundancy payment and early retirement scheme.’
Kevin Coyne, Unite national officer, said: ‘Unite is outraged by the lack of commitment shown by the Cabinet Office to the CSCS.
‘This announcement today has not been agreed with any of the civil service unions, despite previous meetings and discussions.
‘If these proposed changes to the CSCS are put into practice, it would leave over 20,000 Unite members tens of thousands of pounds out of pocket in cases of voluntary or compulsory redundancy.
‘Our members will be outraged at this announcement as no attempt has been made to reach an agreement, despite previous ministerial commitments that talks would take place.
‘Unite will be demanding a meeting with Tessa Jowell to resolve this issue and unless there is an amicably agreed resolution, Unite will conduct an industrial action ballot for its members.’