Trade Unions – Negotiating Civil Service Pay Rises

In the case of R v Minister for the Cabinet Office, the Administrative Court held that government negotiators had not made an express promise concerning consultation over a government department’s remit for negotiating pay.

The Claimants in this case consisted of three independent trade unions who represented 200,000 civil servants employed by government departments, agencies and other public bodies.

Each year, civil service pay is set through pay remit guidance which is issued to departments and agencies. The 2018 Guidance provided that departments may make awards based on average increases between 1-1.5% (known as the “X figure”) without seeking specific authority of approval from the Defendant or HM Treasury.

In this case, a number of meetings took place between the trade unions and government negotiators in order to discuss the draft 2018 Guidance. During these meetings the unions were not told what the X figure was.

The unions argued that during a meeting on the 4th June 2018, they were promised that they would be consulted over the X figure that formed the basis for annual average pay awards before the 2018 Guidance was published.

However, the trade unions were not consulted with and the X figure was officially published on 25th June 2018.

The Claimants applied for judicial review and asked for the 2018 Guidance to be quashed, stating that it had been issued in breach of an express promise that there would be a proper consultation.

The Claimants application was rejected. The Administrative Court held that there had been no clear, unambiguous, unqualified promise of consultation. None of the Claimants witnesses were able to point to any statement that amounted to an express promise of consultation. In addition, the Court held that past practice had involved sharing the remit guidance with unions shortly before publication, but had not involved consultation on the figure set for the range.

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