We stopped Pickles attacking PCS
On 3 September the High Court ruled that the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) was acting unlawfully by ending the decades old system for collecting union subscriptions from salaries, known as “check off”.
In July, DCLG Minister, Eric Pickles, decided to end check-off and gave PCS just 6 weeks’ notice to sign-up members to direct debit. We were denied facilities in workplaces to sign up members or hold meetings. DCLG argued that collecting union subscriptions for PCS was a waste of public funds. However check-off costs under £350 per year in DCLG and PCS offered to pay. The decision to end check-off was the culmination of a politically motivated anti-union campaign in DCLG, which included savage cuts in facility time.
In court DCLG’s legal team accepted that union members have a contractual right to “ask” for check-off, but that this did not mean the department had to provide the check-off system. In his judgement Mr Justice Popplewell referred to this argument as “untenable”.
Costs were awarded against the DCLG. So in the course of defending the ministerial decision to end check-off, Eric Pickles’ department has wasted £90,000 of public funds.
Following the judgement DCLG released a highly politicised statement stating that, despite High Court ruling, it remained the Ministers intention to end check-off.
The court case is an important victory in our fight for members’ rights in DCLG, and sends a message to other employers that we will fight attacks on union rights. While in DCLG the execution was incompetent, the politics is all about attacking union membership organisation and finances. The approach of Eric Pickles has echoes of the attempts of Governor Scott Walker to bust public sector unions in Wisconsin.
The battle is not over, with threats to check-off and union rights in DCLG continue. Across the civil service and the public sector employers are attempting to cut facility time and marginalise unions. It is important to recognise these political threats and unite in a campaign for trade union rights to check-off, facility time and collective bargaining.