‘The government is helping senior civil servants to avoid paying tax’

PCS banners on the pernsions strike march last year
PCS banners on the pernsions strike march last year

Civil servants’ union, PCS has slammed ‘the unfairness of the government paying huge salaries and bonuses to senior civil servants, sometimes even helping them to avoid tax while most public sector workers are suffering a four-year pay freeze.’

It was revealed on Thursday that more than 25 senior staff employed by the Department of Health have their salaries paid to limited companies – which is almost certain to reduce their tax bills.

In some cases, named individuals are being paid more than £250,000 a year, as well as additional expenses. The payments amounted to almost £4.2m in one year.

On Wednesday, the government announced a review of bonuses paid to bosses of public bodies.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘Government ministers and their senior cronies have no sense of what is right or wrong.

‘Public sector workers like customs officers, coastguards, teachers and nurses have had their pay frozen for two years while price rises have been going up by about five per cent.

‘They face two more years of pay rises limited to one per cent while inflation is still nearly four per cent.

‘They also face the prospect of their pension contributions trebling under current government proposals.

‘This amounts to a huge pay cut while some fat cats are trousering a fortune and being helped by the government to avoid paying the taxes that are needed to pay for public services.

‘We call on the government to stop these tax-avoidance schemes immediately, and to give public sector workers the fair pay rises they need, which will in turn boost high street spending.’

Public sector union Unison said on Thursday that it is ‘calling for transparency and scrutiny over senior civil servants pay at the Department of Health’ over the issue.

Christina McAnea, Unison head of health, said: ‘We need absolute transparency and scrutiny over senior civil servant pay at the Department of Health.

‘At a time of austerity our country needs every penny of tax revenue to keep vital services running.

‘It is wrong that whilst health workers face pay and job cuts, senior civil servants are enjoying secret tax breaks. This kind of behaviour should have no place in the civil service.

‘This is a worrying glimpse of the future if the Health and Social Care Bill goes ahead.

‘The more our health service becomes dominated by private companies, the more this kind of dubious financial practice will take hold – leaching vital funds out of the public purse.

‘The bill must be dropped to safeguard patients and taxpayer’s money.’

Meanwhile, Unison members at Chester council staged a half-day strike on Valentine’s Day in a dispute over new contracts that they say ‘massacre’ their terms and conditions.

Together with members of the GMB and Unite, 2,000 staff walked out after Cheshire West and Chester Council bosses introduced new terms and conditions.

In a bid to ‘streamline’ contracts between employees of the four authorities that made up the current council in 2009, council leaders are trying to impose new contracts which they say will ‘equalise’ terms and conditions, which ‘vary greatly’.

But Unison has rejected council plans to dismiss staff and re-employ them on new contracts.

The proposed changes mean that, for instance, staff who are contractually obliged to use their own cars are being reclassified as no longer being ‘essential’ car users, so their mileage rate is being slashed.

Unison area organiser James Rupa said that the cuts to allowances would particularly hit frontline workers who are already predominantly low paid.

West Cheshire assistant branch secretary Ray McHale said union members were not prepared to agree to the cuts.

About 79 per cent of those balloted voted ‘yes’ to become involved in action, short of strike action, and 66.8 per cent per cent agreed to industrial action.

McHale said the council issued a notice in October that it would impose a new contract and those who did not sign it would be dismissed on April 1st.

The council claims that 95 per cent of staff have agreed to the changes which, it says, would save £4m.

McHale said that further targeted strike action among those groups who are most affected have also been planned.

• Seven trade unions will take the government to court on Monday, February 20, over changes to the way public sector pensions are calculated.

The unions are appealing against a High Court decision last year to approve the switch from the retail price index (RPI) to the usually-lower consumer price index (CPI) for the uprating of pensions.

There will be a protest by trade union members to support the appeal outside the Royal Courts of Justice at 8.30am on Monday.

The unions involved are: the Public and Commercial Services union, the Communication Workers Union, the Fire Brigades Union, teachers’ union NASUWT, the Prison Officers’ Association, and the general unions Unison and Unite.

Meanwhile, the NASUWT teachers’ union, has issued a further legal challenge to the government in relation to its plans for changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

The NASUWT has argued, since the government unveiled its plans for pension reform over 12 months ago, that before embarking on changes there should be a valuation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

A valuation would reveal whether there was a problem with the viability and sustainability of the Scheme and, if there was, the scale of the problem.

The NASUWT has served a pre-action letter on the government Actuary’s Department, the Secretary of State for Education and HM Treasury.

The basis of the legal action is that the NASUWT contends that the government had a statutory responsibility to conduct a valuation of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

The last valuation was conducted in 2006 and the Regulations require a further valuation in a period not exceeding five years.

The NASUWT has therefore set in train, with the pre-action letter, a claim for judicial review.

Chris Keates, NASUWT general secretary, said: ‘The government has ignored our repeated requests to produce a valuation of the Scheme.

‘It is simply unacceptable and irresponsible for a government to embark on changes which will have such a profound adverse impact on the financial future of teachers and their families without having evidence to demonstrate that a problem even exists.

‘Not only is the government failing to meet its obligations to teachers, it is failing in its duty to act in the interests of the public.

‘It is, however, probably safe to assume that if a valuation would have provided evidence to support the government’s changes, it would have produced it.

‘The failure to provide the valuation has deeply angered teachers.

‘The NASUWT has pledged to leave no stone unturned to defend teachers and their conditions of service and if this means recourse to legal remedy, the Union will pursue such action.’