On Tuesday 3 September, the High Court ruled that staff in the civil service Department for Communities and Local Government have a contractual right to have their union dues collected through payroll ("check off"), and that the Tory Secretary of State Eric Pickles had acted unlawfully in ordering in the cessation of check off for DCLG staff from the end of August, and awarded costs against him, landing the taxpayer with a total bill of £90,000. The cost of check off in DCLG is around £340 per annum!
Pickles’ decision to halt check off was part of his anti-union drive that has included reducing facility time to 0.04% of the pay bill and banning elected delegates from attending union conferences unless they do so in their own time. He has gone further than any other Minister in his hostility to unions.
According to PCS observers, the judge comprehensively rejected the arguments advanced on behalf of Pickles. One observer described Pickles’ legal case as “pathetically threadbare” and thought it likely that he had been warned of the weakness of his case before forcing the issue to court and wasting public money.
Pickles appears to be a Tory politician with contempt for contract law. Having lumbered the taxpayer with a £90,000 bill, the Daily Mirror has quoted a spokesman for DCLG as saying, “This is a ruling on a technical point of employment law, based on a staff handbook drawn up under the Labour government.” The “technical point of law” being that he cannot simply repudiate a contractual obligation!
Pickles’ irrelevant reference to the last Labour government — who, PCS officials assure us, really did not negotiate DCLG’s Staff Handbook! — is of course a weak attempt to shift the responsibility for his own incompetence. Presumably, however, Mr Pickles thinks that a future Labour government could and should repudiate aspects of contracts agreed between the present government and profiteers making enormous sums of money out of the welfare state.
Pickles is a Tory politico who has prospered from the high salaries, the generous pension arrangements, and the second-home arrangements afforded to professional politicians. He continues to do very nicely at the expense of the “taxpayer”. As a man so allegedly keen on “transparency” Pickles should either resign or be sacked for wasting money like this when a civil servant would be on poor performance or misconduct procedures for such poor decision making.
It is striking, however, that the Tories' “Liberal” coalition partners endorse Pickles’ and the Tories' anti-union drive. With Labour so silent on Pickles and the Liberals so compliant, there can be no doubt that he will continue to bear down on the collective representation of DCLG trade union members and that Tuesdays’s decision was just round one in the fight.