At the MoJ group conference in May conference unanimously backed a motion calling for members in HMCTS to be consulted on what action should be taken to force HMCTS to consult with PCS more effectively on the reform programme in order to protect jobs. This followed a protracted dispute process that started in September 2018 over the lack of consultation on the stand-up of the Courts and Tribunal Service Centres (CTSCs); a process which PCS felt placed members’ terms and conditions and jobs at risk.
Although some progress was made during the dispute, not least developing a memorandum of understanding which will prescribe the future consultation process between PCS and HMCTS and a working hours pilot that secured the terms and conditions of both existing and new staff, the dispute could be summed up as taking two steps forward and three steps back.
Funding for exits secured without consultation
New information would be uncovered during the dispute process that seemed to evidence a systemic and fundamental lack of understanding of the consultation process necessary for such a large-scale reform process that will result in a significant reduction in headcount at the end of the process. This included the revelation in a staff circular in February that HMCTS had secured funding for voluntary exits as part of their reform budget despite consistent denial during the dispute and in communications with staff through One Conversation 4 and other avenues that voluntary exits were not being planned in HMCTS. This is information that should have been shared with PCS before any bid for funding was made.
Such revelations meant that PCS wanted to escalate the dispute to the final stage of the dispute resolution process to permanent secretary level but HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood effectively closed that channel down and considers the dispute to be resolved despite new information arising on the failure to consult before the process had concluded.
Restriction on consulting for industrial action ends
The dispute resolution process restricted the ability for PCS to consult with members on industrial action. Having confirmed that they consider the dispute has concluded HMCTS has effectively lifted the restriction on our consulting members. HMCTS’s failure to understand their obligations on consultation is not limited to a failure to properly consult with their employees and the trade unions. The failure to properly consult with other stakeholders was identified by the parliamentary public accounts committee in July last year and resulted in the current scrutiny by the justice select committee. PCS submitted evidence to both committees.
Looking to the future
There is however cause for some optimism as there is an emergence of a genuine commitment from HMCTS to try to improve consultation and PCS is continuing to work with HMCTS to turn that commitment into a reality. However, this will not stop our consultation with members. Over the coming weeks the GEC will be developing the consultation process. The scope and timetable for the exercise will be published in due course.
In the interim, PCS will use the fact that HMCTS members broke the 50% threshold on the recent nation pay ballot to strengthen our bargaining position with HMCTS. We know that as well as sending a message to the government about low pay in HMCTS, many members were also sending a message to HMCTS that strengthens our position on reform.
However, the best way we can secure the commitment to properly consult with members, to protect jobs and terms and conditions is for members in HMCTS to fully participate in the consultation process, to show your strength of feeling and give PCS a clear mandate in our future discussions with HMCTS.
To that end it is vital that members taking part in the CTSC pilots feedback and participate in the workplace committees that we are setting up in the CTSCs.
The review of the job matching process that we secured as part of the dispute resolution process is under way. Members should continue to contact PCS to feed in their experiences and the issues you believe we need to address with the employer.