PCS has been involved in pre-dispute discussions with HMCTS over our concerns over the stand up of Courts and Tribunals Service Centres (CTSCs) and the wider Reform Programme. Unfortunately, we were unable to make sufficient progress with those informal discussions and on the 16 October, we entered a formal dispute under the Collective Engagement Framework Dispute Resolution Procedure (DRP).
A dispute under the DRP is not industrial action, it is an administrative process where attempts are made to resolve issues of disagreement between the trade unions and the employer. However, the Dispute Resolution Process must have been exhausted before PCS can move toward a ballot of members on the issues in dispute. The DRP is a three-stage process escalating to higher levels of management up to Permanent Secretary level and has to follow a strict timetable. Members can access the DRP on the intranet by searching for Managing Organisational Change Framework and clicking on the Collective Engagement Framework. Unfortunately, insufficient progress has been made in the Stage One discussions and PCS is now proceeding to Stage Two of the process.
Invoking the DRP usually prevents the employer from proceeding with the change process until the dispute has concluded and consequently information relating to the dispute is normally embargoed. However, HMCTS has cited that it is business critical for them to continue with the process and have refused to put a stop to the process whilst talks continue. We strongly disagree with their position; not least because it means members may be placed in a situation where they must make decisions about their future before the dispute has concluded. In such circumstances it is unacceptable that we are prevented from providing advice and guidance because of an embargo on discussing the dispute. Therefore, we have stated our position that we must provide such advice regardless of the normal constraints.
Main issues of Dispute
HMCTS have determined that they want the new CTSCs to be open from 8am to 8pm, Monday to Fridays and 8am to 2pm on Saturdays without payment of Saturday premium or other anti-social hours allowances. They proposed to do this despite there being no evidence to support a demand for such working hours from users. PCS maintain this will entail a change of terms and conditions of employment for HMCTS staff and that HMCTS cannot unilaterally change terms and conditions of service without negotiation with the trade unions. Such a proposed change on the back of the emphatic rejection of MEP by members is utterly intolerable.
PCS offered HMCTS an opportunity to pilot the new working hours for any newly recruited staff to test the demand for such working; with an offer for formal negotiations at the conclusion of any pilot if a demand was established. However, there would be no change to terms and conditions during the pilot period for anyone. Further to this all HMCTS staff whether directly affected by the proposals or simply expressing an interest in working at a CTSC could not be required to work the new hours; however, if they wanted to volunteer to work the new shift patterns as part of the pilot they could do so but this would be also under existing terms and conditions.
HMCTS have accepted that those staff immediately affected would not be required to work the new hours or change their terms and conditions. However existing staff, and any new recruits including anyone who is redeployed into HMCTS from another government department would be required to change terms and conditions.
PCS have asked for a Memorandum of Understanding that codifies the processes that will be followed by HMCTS and PCS to mitigate the risk of redundancies arising from Reform. This includes the following principal aims:
- A no compulsory redundancy agreement
- A preference exercise so that every member of staff can express an initial non-binding indication of their aspirations and preferred options going forward. Whether that is a willingness to move to other parts of HMCTS, MoJ and or other government departments (OGDs) or any exit schemes that may be offered in the future. This would allow HMCTS to consider their people strategy form an informed position rather than making sweeping assumptions.
- An agreed process for CTSC posts to be filled through a simple expression of interest process.
- A reinforcement of a default position that the overwhelming majority of roles in CTSCs or any other part of HMCTS are capable of being undertaken by existing HMCTS staff and therefore any mapping and matching exercise should reflect this and any perceived deficit in skills, knowledge or competences is capable of being addressed through training and support to enable existing staff to undertake a role of their current grade within the new structure.
- An agreement that HMCTS will as a redundancy avoidance measure offer exceptions to the current policy restraints on relocation allowances and excess fare agreements commensurate to the need to mitigate the risk of redundancy for those staff that require them to continue working in HMCTS.
- That any Career Transition Service provision must apply from when the risk of redundancy is identified and ensure impacted staff have priority status for job vacancies across the MoJ estate and commits to working with other government departments to attempt to secure opportunities within the wider civil service.
- A job security agreement for Agency Staff and those on Fixed Term Contracts, which gives them priority status for jobs before external recruitment.
Whilst there has been some progress HMCTS’ refusal to halt the process pending further negotiations means we cannot allow further delay and have been forced to escalate on this issue.
Advice to members – the PCS 5 point plan
PCS has received a significant number of queries from members seeking advice from their union on HMCTS Reform and in particular the establishing of the first CTSCs in January. We urge every affected member to follow our initial 5-point plan:
Step 1 – do not panic. Members should not, under any circumstances, resign or move jobs (unless it is a job you would have taken regardless of current situation). The employer must, under its own policy rules undertake all reasonable steps to find you suitable alternative employment and if unable to do so make a redundancy payment. There are also rules regarding salary protection if you are required to undertake lower graded work. Resigning or moving to other roles on a voluntary basis may put these protections, any redundancy package or other financial packages at risk. Do not feel pressured into making any decision. If you are unsure get union advice.
Step 2 – Until further advice is received from the union do not accept any offer of a role in a CTSC if you are unclear how this may affect your hours of work or other terms and conditions of employment. If in doubt check with PCS.
Step 3 – At informal and formal 1-2-1 meetings you should request that a PCS rep attend with you. You should make clear what any preferences you may have about your future career, whether that is in a CTSC, a job elsewhere in HMCTS or the MoJ, a job in the wider Civil Service or whether you would be willing to take an exit package. You should also identify any barriers to this that may exist, whether that is family commitments, disability, travel time or financial. You must ensure that this is recorded in writing. In the event that we cannot reach an agreement with the employer on a suitable proforma, PCS will provide a document for you to work from.
Step 4 – As HMCTS are at present unable or unwilling to undertake a preference exercise PCS will undertake our own. If you are a PCS member working in any part of HMCTS you will be asked to explicitly state your preference for the future at this point in time. This will be non-binding but allows us to understand your aspirations. For members interested in voluntary redundancy it is important to note that the Reform programme is a 5-year plan and that work will migrate in stages and therefore you should also give an indication whether you would consider a deferred VEDS package (or VEDS with an extended notice period) i.e. take VEDS at some stage in the future on current terms. It is important that you honestly express your preference at this point.
Step 5 – get help. If you have any specific questions on HMCTS Reform or how it affects you please contact your union. PCS members can speak to their local branch reps or email us at: email@example.com We will provide further and updated advice to members in due course.
PCS has invoked the DRP to try and reach agreement with the employer’s representatives on the above issues with a view to publishing any final agreement to members so they are clear on the options available to them and the processes HMCTS must follow to mitigate the risks of staff being displaced or adversely affected by Reform. We went into dispute because it was necessary for us to seek to stop the process until such an agreement was reached and to reflect the anger and dismay that members have reported feeling to us because of the lack of certainty on job security arising from the CTSC and wider Reform programmes.
In the event that we cannot reach agreement through the DRP PCS will begin a process of consultation with members via a consultative ballot on action over HMCTS Reform. In the meantime, PCS will:
- Speed up our conference policy commitment for a workplace committee in every HMCTS workplace with a focus on not only local issues but on HMCTS Reform impacts. Please contact us if you would like to be involved in this.
- Continue to convene members meetings across impacted workplaces.