HMRC plots to break your union

Support your union

  • Leaked memo to ExCom reveals plan to “marginalise” PCS and ARC
  • Your right to union representation is under threat to force through Tory-led job cuts
  • Building Our Future meetings explicitly used for union busting and selling cuts

The most senior civil servants in HM Revenue and Customs have hatched a “deeply disturbing” politicised plot to destabilise your union, it has been revealed.

A leaked memo (PDF download), written for HMRC’s executive committee, outlines a plan to “marginalise” PCS because of our continuing opposition to cuts and closures.

The revelation follows HMRC unilaterally walking away from talks aimed at resolving our ongoing dispute over jobs and staffing on the flimsiest of pretexts. It is now clear that this was only an opening shot in an all-out assault on your union.

Following on from the department’s refusal to talk, Employer Relations then contacted the managers of a number of senior elected PCS representatives. They insisted that these reps had no facility time left and were not to be allowed to perform their PCS duties. Tellingly, Employer Relations outlined this highly illegal course of action verbally and have refused to put it in writing.

We are now aware that the directors and managers in different business streams have also been instructed not to deal with certain PCS reps and that invitations to scheduled meetings have been cancelled.

This is a clear attack on the union and your right to representation, both individually and collectively.

The Cabinet Office have imposed an artificial threshold for facilities time usage of 50%, which is what the employer is using to attack reps. Invariably, those who go beyond this threshold will do so either because they spend their time negotiating with senior management on your behalf or because they work a lot of personal cases for members.


The leaked document states that HMRC’s senior managers believe their “business interests” are best served by an approach that “reduces the influence of the unions”.

Tellingly, it explicitly states that the Building Our Future meetings, are the “key delivery vehicle” for this approach and that “direct dialogue” with staff is being used to bypass the unions. This exposes Lin Homer’s answer to the Hotseat on 25 June that “Building Our Future is not about circumventing our trade unions” as a falsehood on the part of the Chief Executive.

The paper says HMRC should only talk to us on “an understanding with PCS that their future engagement with HMRC is about working with us to achieve our change agenda”.

This underlines that senior managers do not believe in independent trade unionism. The purpose of PCS is to represent and fight for your collective interests, including resisting measures designed to erode your working rights and conditions.

Instead, HMRC would have us help them manage these attacks and support their cuts, which defeats the purpose of having a trade union at all.

Belittling staff

The paper also demonstrates the contemptuous and patronising attitude Homer and ExCom have towards you as a PCS member.

It discusses encouraging staff away from PCS to “other workable alliances” and causing the “degradation of PCS’s organising capability”. By marginalising the union, it is suggested, there will be a “clear signal to union members that their union is no [sic] best positioned to serve their needs.”

HMRC clearly thinks that you are incapable of seeing through a direct and politically motivated attack on your right to representation. It believes that you can be easily steered towards the likes of “employee forum arrangements” without realising the disadvantage of these against independent unions.

By contrast, PCS is its membership, and we have won every protection and benefit the department is now trying to whittle away because of your involvement and action.

PCS response

PCS is not going to take this attack lying down.

The union’s structures for escalating industrial issues remain unchanged and will still be there if you wish to raise an issue with your rep. A legal precedent guarantees all union members the right to be represented by the person they choose, and so you cannot be denied representation from your union when you need help.

We will also be exploring all legal advice available on this matter in order to offer a robust challenge to HMRC.

Our general secretary Mark Serwotka has written to HMRC chief executive Lin Homer (PDF download) to let her know that we believe the leaked document signals a “major and damaging change in industrial relations” and to call on her to publicly disown it.

Mark’s letter states: “This is a shocking and deeply disturbing indication of a secret and political approach to industrial relations which runs completely counter to the positive approach you say you want to see.

“It amounts to a politicised attack on independent trade unionism in HMRC.

“In fact, the paper explains recent events which until now had appeared to be an incoherent response to PCS’s legitimate dispute.”

In his letter Mark confirms we remain ready to discuss jobs, performance management and privatisation but we will not be bullied into signing up to damaging cuts.

He also repeats his proposal that we go to the conciliation service ACAS to try to resolve the dispute, something Homer had previously rejected.

Next steps

In the near future, the branch will be holding off-site members’ meetings to discuss this situation and what our response will be.

When these are announced we encourage all members to make an effort to attend. This is your union, your voice as a worker and your right to representation that HMRC are attacking. If they succeed, they will be free to drive through job cuts, office closures and detrimental changes to our terms and conditions without challenge.

Finally, we would remind members that part of this attack is withdrawing the means by which members pay their union subscriptions through payroll, in an attempt to disrupt our funding and undermine our ability to function.

If you haven’t already, therefore, please take the time to sign up for direct debit. You can do this easily online here or by telephone on 0800 317 464 from a landline or 0207 801 2670 from a mobile phone.

We will keep members updated of any further developments in this saga, good or bad. In the meantime, our advice to members is as follows:

  • Continue to seek out a PCS rep at the earliest opportunity when you need advice and assistance at work.
  • Continue to raise any industrial issues or concerns with your reps so that they can be challenged at the appropriate level.
  • Email Lin Homer directly and insist that your right to be represented in collective bargaining and personal cases is not undermined by Cabinet Office diktat. (Please be respectful and mindful of the Civil Service Code when contacting the Chief Executive.)
  • Write to your MP and urge them to put pressure on HMRC and the Cabinet Office to defend your right to union representation.
  • Keep up to date with the latest news on the branch and group websites.

7 thoughts on “HMRC plots to break your union

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