PCS has today announced that its challenge of the National Audit Offices decision to unilaterally change terms and conditions of service from its employees has been successful:
On 15 December, PCS won the important case against the NAO’s decision to reduce the contractual sick pay and leave of its existing staff.
This dispute started in late 2012, when the Cabinet Office wrote to all government departments, asking them to make sure the terms and conditions on offer to civil servants were in line with those provided by a “good, modern
employer”. In practice, this meant suggesting reductions in various terms and conditions, such as entitlement to sick pay. PCS organised a national response to this with the ‘Don’t rip up our rights’ campaign.
The Cabinet Office did not write to the National Audit Office, since the NAO is not part of government. Instead, it works directly for Parliament as its ‘spending watchdog’— certifying the accounts of government bodies and producing value-for-money reports on public spending.
But despite being independent of government, the NAO decided to reduce the terms and conditions it offered anyway. In fact, it decided to go further than government departments, and impose reductions on the contractual terms and conditions of its existing staff.
We mounted a strong defence, including a joint grievance, comprising 10% of the entire NAO workforce, a motion from the PCS group of MPs, and industrial action.
NAO management would still not come back to the negotiating table or make changes to their proposals. So, in 2014 we supported 2 members who took a test case to an employment tribunal. NAO management argued that the wording of the contracts allowed them to make changes to the terms and conditions of staff even without their agreement.
The NAO won this original tribunal case, having claimed they were following the example of Asda-Walmart, which had previously succeeded in doing something similar. But our legal advice said this was flawed.
In December, PCS took the case to an employment appeal tribunal and won. The EAT ruled that the NAO did not have the right to change the contractual terms of its staff without their agreement.
This ruling does not just benefit staff at the NAO. It also sets a legal precedent which should help to protect workers across the country from employers trying to impose detrimental changes in similar circumstances.
Although not stated in the briefing the case would appear to be that of Norman v National Audit Office. It does not look as if the reasons for the EAT’s judgement have yet been published.