A civil service union is taking legal advice after losing a High Court challenge against coalition government moves to reduce workers’ redundancy and early retirement pay-outs.
The Public and Commercial Services Union, which has 270,000 members, and the Prison Officers’ Association, which has 35,000, had called for a judicial review of a decision that was made in December last year by the Civil Service Minister Francis Maude to amend a compensation scheme that applies to more than 600,000 personnel.
The unions had cited European human rights legislation covering the protection of possessions and right to free assembly in order to make the case that the changes, which included cutting redundancy pay by up to two thirds in some cases, were unlawful.
But Mr Justice McCombe dismissed the case and said the new scheme was valid. He concluded that because rights to certain redundancy terms had accrued as a result of length of service, they could be classed as possessions.
But the judge also ruled that ministers had not acted unlawfully because they had justified the changes as a way of tackling the budget deficit and it was not for the courts to interfere with the government’s economic or social policy.
Although pension rights were “weaker” than they had been, “the rights of scheme members have not been eliminated under the new scheme; they have been reduced in a manner designed to spread the burden fairly among all civil servants”, he said.
In addition, no one had contested that the new scheme, which had been accepted by four other unions and was still relatively favourable when compared with similar offerings in the private sector and elsewhere in the public sector, Mr Justice McCombe continued.
This meant, in his opinion, that the reduction in benefits was “reasonable and commensurate”.
PCS deputy general secretary Hugh Lanning said of the ruling: “We are pleased the judge agreed with our central argument that existing rights to redundancy pay should not be taken away without consent, but naturally disappointed he ruled he could not interfere in the government’s economic policies.”
The union was taking “further legal advice”, but the case had only ever been one strand in its opposition and it was committed to “carrying on the fight both industrially and politically”, he added.