The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) has imposed a pay offer on 24,000 court staff provoking an angry reaction.
The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) says the deal is below inflation, averaging at 1.75% for most, and will effectively result in a pay cut in real terms for some of the lowest paid in the public sector and a pay freeze for more experienced staff.
However, a spokesman for the DCA said that on average the 2006 pay award will be worth 3.5%. He said that staff who are lower down the pay scale will get more, some of them up to 3.7%. However, he admitted that those who have reached the top of their pay scale will receive a lower award, adding: "It’s only fair because they are higher up the scale as it is."
The 2006 pay award should have been paid last August but was rejected by the PCS union. The DCA spokesman said: "It was offered, it was rejected and now the DCA has imposed it. Staff in the department, the tribunal service and her majesty’s court service will receive the pay award in their March salaries."
He went on to say that the DCA made the decision to impose the award because it was unable to enter into negotiations for 2007 until the 2006 award had been finalised. He added that the DCA did not think it was fair to keep staff waiting for the award because of union dissatisfaction. He said: "Hopefully 2007’s award will start to be negotiated as soon as possible, the  pay award will happen in March and the 2007 award should be applicable from August."
Civil service staff recently took part in a one day strike action over pay, and the PCS has warned that the pay imposition could lead to further industrial action.
Nick McCarthy, PCS senior national officer for the DCA, said: "The DCA’s decision to impose a real terms pay cut, just two days after a senior judge warned that low pay and staff shortages were plunging parts of the courts into chaos, is both insulting and confrontational."
He continued: People working in the justice system are already some of the lowest paid in the civil service and this latest move by the DCA to drive down pay will only lead to staff retention problems and plummeting morale."