PCS: Move against support for union members is political

Government plans announced today (8) to cut the time union representatives can spend supporting their colleagues coincides with a wider threat to working conditions and is politically driven, the Public and Commercial Services union says.

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has outlined plans to drastically reduce the amount of time civil servants can spend carrying out their trade union duties, including negotiating with employers, resolving grievances and dealing with health and safety issues.

But in his speech to the Tory party conference Mr Maude failed to mention the massive benefits to organisations and the wider economy of what is known as facility time, which the government's own figures show are between £3 and £9 for every £1 spent.

The announcement comes as civil service managers are being told to 'review' all terms and conditions, including working hours, annual leave and many other contractual issues.

It also coincides with other government policies to further shift the balance of power from employees to employers, including the introduction of fees for employment tribunals and making it more difficult to claim unfair dismissal.

The union has been in talks on facility time with the Cabinet Office for several weeks but, under instructions from Mr Maude, the government has now withdrawn from this process. Three planned meetings were cancelled at short notice with no explanation, the most recent one just hours before it was due to start.

The union says the timing of the announcement is being led by the timetable for the party conference, rather than there being a genuine desire to negotiate and reach an agreement, something senior civil servants had said they were keen to do.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "This latest attack on civil servants is part of a sustained and calculated plan to shift the balance of power even further away from employees to employers and we will be resisting it robustly.

"We entered into talks with the government in good faith, but ministers have chosen to undermine this process simply to fit in with a speech at the Tory conference.

"Once again, ministers are blaming hard-working, typically low-paid workers for a financial crisis they did not cause, and trying to divert attention from the real issue that their cuts are failing our country and that an alternative is desperately needed."