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Civil Service Union Victorious in Direct Deduction of Subscriptions Row

In a resounding victory for trade unions and their civil servant members, a judge has ruled that long-standing arrangements whereby union subscriptions are deducted from staff pay packets have contractual force and, at least so far as existing employees are concerned, cannot be changed.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions had, on giving three months’ notice, announced the cancellation of so-called ‘check-off’ arrangements whereby, for many years, departmental employees enjoyed the option to have their subscriptions to the Public and Commercial Services Union deducted at source.

In ruling on a challenge to the decision brought by the union and two of its members, the High Court noted that the contents of staff employment contracts within the Department for Work and Pensions were fragmented and spread across various handbooks, manuals, collective agreements and potentially even announcements made on the department’s intranet.

However, they all had a common root in a pay and conditions code which dated back to the 1970s and the check-off arrangements must have originated in a civil service-wide collective agreement made under it. The code was clearly intended to have contractual effect and it was intended that the Crown should abide by it and would not arbitrarily change any rights that it conferred on staff.

In those circumstances, the Court found that that the Secretary of State was obliged to continue to offer the check-off option to existing employees and that the arrangement was not terminable, even on giving reasonable notice. The Court also ruled that the union, although not a party to its members’ employment contracts, could enforce their rights under the Contracts (Rights of Third Parties) Act 1999.