United Kingdom Public and Commercial Services Union strikes against cuts to Civil Service Compensation Scheme 2010

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly versionPDF versionPDF version
Time Period:  
8 March
24 April
Location and Goals
United Kingdom
Location City/State/Province: 
United Kingdom
The removal of a reformed compensation plan that reduced severance (redundancy) and pensions for compulsory redundant civil servants.

In March 2009, British Prime Minister (PM) Gordon Brown of the Labor Government proposed to reform the Civil Service Compensation Scheme (CSCS). The Superannuation Act of 1972 governed the CSCS and provided cash compensation for civil servants who lost their jobs and established early retirement terms.

Brown sought reform in order to rein in costs and address government accountability. According to the Labor Government, CSCS reforms would save taxpayers £500 million over the course of three years. However, after a series of negotiations, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) conducted a two-day strike.

Comprised of civil servant and government agency employees, PCS had a total of 270,000 members. At the time of the reform proposals, PCS was the fifth largest labor union in Britain and the largest civil service trade union in the UK.

In the United Kingdom, workers were given redundancy payments if they lost their job due to either voluntary or involuntary termination. Under the Superannuation Act 1972, unemployed workers received a week’s worth of pay for every year of employment. The act determined a week’s worth of pay based on age with older civil servants receiving large severances, but this age-specific component violated UK equality laws. .

In 2009, the maximum redundancy payment was £10,500 for terminated civil servants. The Superannuation Act 1972 stated that redundant civil servants receive severance pay for three years following unemployment. For senior civil servants, the act extended severance pay to six years.

On 22 September 2009, Cabinet Office Minister and Member of Parliament (MP), Tessa Jowell, met with civil service unions to discuss reformed aspects of the Superannuation Act 1972. The Labor Government claimed it sought to create reasonable terms while eliminating the perception that the government was overly benevolent.

In addition, Jowell suggested eliminating the age discrimination component of the act that allowed older workers to receive larger severances than younger workers. Jowell’s other proposals included increasing government transparency by publishing redundancy and early retirement costs, doing away with the minimum retirement age, and establishing varying severance payments based on the reason for dismissal.

Civil service unions that participated in the 22 September meeting rejected the proposals. They mostly opposed the severance payment reduction from up to three years after unemployment to only two. The unions also dismissed variances in pension policies for public sector employees. Under the Labor Government reforms, civil servants under the age of 50 would not be eligible for immediate access to full pensions unless they used severance payments to make up the difference in earnings between early and standard retirement.

On 4 December 2009, the Cabinet Office released new reforms based on grievances from the 22 September meeting. The office reinstated three-year maximum severance payments and optional early retirement without a pension reduction; however, those opting for early retirement would not receive severance. The government set the original implementation date for these reforms for 1 January 2010, but then pushed the date back to 1 April 2010.

The unions objected to the government’s decision to enact the changes without mutual agreement from both sides. In response to the Labor Government’s exclusion of civil service unions, PCS requested judicial review of the Labor Government’s new CSCS reforms on 10 December. The Labor Government hosted an additional meeting with civil service unions on 3 February 2010 to address the revised reforms from 4 December. By the end of the meeting, PCS was the only union in attendance, out of six, to outright reject the modified proposals drafted in December.

PCS feared its workers earning more than £30,000 a year would lose money due to the £50,000 maximum on three-year severance payments. Based on the December changes, PCS determined those workers were only eligible for two-year severance payments. The union accused the Labor Government of using CSCS reforms as a way to slash civil and public servant jobs, which the CSCS had been created to restructure. PCS wanted to protect administrative and lower executive workers, who faced job cuts and outsourcing.

PCS issued a ballot on 25 February inquiring whether its members favored a 48-hour strike action against the CSCS reforms. Although turnout proved low, with 51,948 voters of the 270,000 members, 63.4% voted in favor of strike. PCS argued its workers would lose a third of their entitlements if the government implemented the 4 December modifications.

The PCS strike took place on 8 and 9 March 2010 with demonstrations planned throughout the United Kingdom, from London to Belfast. PCS predicted that all 270,000 of its members intended to participate in the strike. On 8 March, activists executed 20 rallies across the UK. Nearly 30,000 Scottish union members walked out of their jobs, resulting in job center closures and 2,000 driving lesson cancellations in Scotland.

Additionally, 50,000 employees of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) refused to work. Other strike participants picketed outside Edinburgh Castle and Scottish Parliament. The PCS strikes were the largest the UK had seen since 1987.

The 48-hour strike successfully inhibited the smooth functioning of government bureaus and agencies. Of the 500 Scottish Parliament staff, 200 joined the movement. The actions resulted in the cancellation of sittings in the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, and some Labor Government politicians refused to cross PCS strike lines. Approximately 260 passport appointments were canceled in London, which led PCS to believe the strike caused 80,000 passport delays.

Civilian staff of the Metro Police joined other PCS members, leaving understaffed emergency call centers. The strike forced police officers to answer security calls from the Houses of Parliament and emergency calls from the general population. PCS claimed the participation of non-civil servants strengthened the two-day strike.

Nearly 200,000 PCS members participated in the strike, a number disputed by government officials, who estimated only 81,000 PCS members went on strike. Picketing occurred outside Parliament in London, and protests took place at 500 sites throughout the capital. Left-wing MPs and trade and firefighters’ unions also threatened resistance against the government. Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, stated, “local communities and workers in the public services will need to fight as never before to defend our vital public services.”

On 24 March 2010, the PCS National Executive launched a one-day strike and national walkout that coincided with Budget Day. The actions addressed the government’s refusal to further negotiate with union members regarding CSCS reforms. Protesters decorated picket lines with signs and slogans, blocking the Chancellor’s entryway into the Treasury Commons. Participants marched to Westminster and held a rally in Parliament Square, while protesters in Edinburgh held a mock Budget presentation outside the Welsh Assembly.

Workers in Birmingham, Liverpool, Gloucestershire, Leeds, Liverpool, and Manchester participated in the 24-hour strike. Cars with advertisements about the Budget Day strike traversed streets in Manchester, and PCS led a battle bus tour of the London picket lines. PCS took union representatives and officials on the bus tour to gain support for its opposition campaign against CSCS reforms.

The strikes encouraged new civil servants to become members of the union. According to PCS estimates, 1,000 new members joined in March alone. Like the 48-hour strike earlier in the month, 999 call center workers received overtime pay because of understaffing issues.

After the 6 May 2010 General Election, the newly elected Coalition Government proposed limiting CSCS compulsory redundancy payment to 12 months’ salary. Once again, PCS rejected these changes and promised to fight the newly proposed civil service cuts.

On 11 May 2010, the High Court made a ruling on the 10 December PCS case against the Labor Government. A judge ruled in favor of PCS, designating amendments to the CSCS unlawful because the government had not received union approval; the court ordered new amendments be nullified. Conservatives argued new amendments were necessary in order to reduce the size and deficit of the government. The Cabinet Office’s immediate suspension of the amendments proved the success of PCS’s legal action.

To gain voters’ support for the campaign, PCS hosted bus tours through cabinet ministers’ constituencies from 20 April to 24 April 2010. The first battle bus tour traveled through Tessa Jowell’s constituency. On 23 April, PCS members distributed leaflets at the Metro Stations in Newcastle, David Miliband’s constituency. On the same day, members also delivered letters to Miliband’s office from his constituents. Jowell expressed disapproval of the strike stating, “low turnout for two days in a row by PCS members supports the view that after 18 months of negotiation and consultation, the right deal has been reached.”

Despite the victory, the High Court gave the Labor Government three months to appeal the decision. Both sides agreed the old CSCS needed to be reformed, especially since it violated the 2006 Age Regulations, which prohibited age discrimination. However, the PCS claimed the government was attempting to override and dismiss the majority of its workers. In July 2011, the High Court responded to the government’s appeal and the support of four unions, ultimately ruling against PCS.

The Superannuation Act 2010 was introduced to Parliament on 15 July 2010 and formally approved by parliament, or given Royal Assent, on 16 December 2010. Against the May 2010 court decision, the Labor Government instituted the 12 months’ salary limit on compulsory redundancy payments.

Research Notes
Aldridge, Catriona. 2010. “Civil service redundancy decision is not quite the victory we thought.” 28 May 2010. Web Site: The Guardian. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170409150334/https://www.theguardian.com/law/2010/may/28/civil-service-redundancy-victory).

Anon. 2010. “Unions warn of public sector strikes on redundancy pay.” 5 July 2010. Web Site: BBC. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/save/http://www.bbc.com/news/10504840).

Anon. 2010. “Union wins civil service redundancy pay challenge.” 10 May 2010. Web site: BBC. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507020326/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8672150.stm).

Anon. 2010. “Civil servants in 48-hour redundancy pay strike.” 8 March 2010. Web site: BBC. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507020632/http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8554345.stm).

Anon. 2010. “30,000 Scottish and civil and public servants to strike for 48 hours.” 26 February 2010. Web site: Public and Commercial Services Union. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507020722/http://www.pcs.org.uk/scotland/news/30000-scottish-and-civil-and-public-servants-to-strike-for-48-hours).

Anon. 2010. “Civil and public servants start National 48-hour strike.” 8 March 2010. Web site: Public and Commercial Services Union. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507020817/http://www.pcs.org.uk/scotland/news/civil-and-public-servants-start-national-48-hr-strike).

Anon. 2010. “PCS: Battle bus tour of ministers’ constituencies highlights union campaigns.” 20 April 2010. Web site: Politics UK. Retrieved April 11, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170411150653/http://www.politics.co.uk/opinion-formers/pcs-public-and-commercial-services-union/article/pcs-battle-bus-tour-of-ministers-constituencies-highlights-u).

Anon. 2010. “Civil servants strike to stop attacks on conditions.” 25 March 2010. Web site: Socialist Party. Retrieved April 12, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170412161839/http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/9047).

Anon. ND. “Support strong on second day of civil service strike.” Swindon Trades Union Council. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507021006/https://swindontuc.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/support-strong-on-second-day-of-civil-service-strike/).

Anon. 2010. “Civil servants go on 48-hour strike over redundancy pay.” 8 March 2010. Web site: The Telegraph. Retrieved March 15, 2017 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7396469/Civil-servants-go-on-48-hour-strike-over-redundancy-pay.html).

Association, Press. 2011. “Civil service unions lose legal challenge over reduced redundancy payouts.” 10 August 2011. Web site: The Guardian. Retrieved May 6, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507021113/https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2011/aug/10/civil-service-benefits-overturned).

Barrow, Becky. 2010. “Unions warn of Greek-style riots in Britain against public sector cuts after court victory over capping redundancies.” 10 May 2010. Web site: Daily Mail. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/election/article-1276386/Unions-warn-Greece-style-riots-civil-servant-redundancy-court-victory.html).

Curtis, Polly. 2010. “Civil servants win redundancy pay court challenge.” 10 May 2010. Web site: The Guardian. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507021316/https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/may/10/civil-servants-redundancy-pay-court).

Curtis, Polly. 2010. “Civil servants to strike over redundancy pay.” 25 February 2010. Web site: The Guardian. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170503011606/https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/feb/25/civil-servants-to-strike).

Curtis, Polly. 2010. “Union plans budget day picket lines to embarrass government.” 16 March 2010. Web site: The Guardian. Retrieved April 11, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170411144435/https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2010/mar/17/union-budget-picket-lines-government).

Higginson, John. 2010. “Chaos looms as 270,000 civil servants stage 48-hour strike over redundancy.” 7 March 2010. Web site: Metro. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507021546/http://metro.co.uk/2010/03/07/chaos-looms-as-270000-civil-servants-stage-48-hour-strike-over-redundancy-150629/).

Hope, Christopher. 2010. “Civil servants win right to 21 months’ redundancy pay - but PCS holds out for more.” 7 October 2010. Web site: The Telegraph. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/8049044/Civil-servants-win-right-to-21-months-redundancy-pay-but-PCS-holds-out-for-more.html).

Jamieson, Alastair. 2010. “Alistair Darling must cross Budget Day picket.” 24 March 2010. Web site: The Telegraph. Retrieved May 6, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507005138/http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/budget/7510268/Alistair-Darling-must-cross-Budget-Day-picket.html).

Newby, Chris, Pav Alam, and Andy Ford. 2010. “PCS budget day strike: Support grows across country.” 31 March 2010. Web site: Socialist Party. Retrieved May 6, 2017 (https://web.archive.org/web/20170507015142/http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/articles/9091).

Phillips, Lucy. 2009. “Redundancy payments for civil servants to be cut.” 3 August 2009. Web site: People Management. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (http://www2.cipd.co.uk/pm/peoplemanagement/b/weblog/archive/2013/01/29/redundancy-payouts-for-civil-servants-to-be-cut-2009-08.aspx).

Timmons, Nicholas. 2009. “Civil servants face big cuts in redundancy deals.” 5 December 2009. Web site: Financial Times. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6899d622-e13e-11de-af7a-00144feab49a.html?ft_site=falcon&desktop=true#axzz4bHHd7ome).

Tyler, Richard. 2010. “Britain: Civil servants strike for two days.” 8 March 2010. Web site: World Socialist. Retrieved March 14, 2017 (https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2010/03/civi-m08.html).

Additional Notes: 
Shayla Smith took over and made additions to this case on 15 March 2017.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Guido Girgenti 27/04/2014 and Shayla Smith 15/03/2017