Government seeks strike ban in civil service

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THE GOVERNMENT is seeking to introduce a ban on industrial action by civil servants, a confidential Cabinet Office memorandum reveals.

The letter, written by Richard Mottram, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, gives senior colleagues in other government departments the go-ahead to sign no-strike deals.

The note, sent to Sir Michael Partridge, the most senior civil servant at the Department of Social Security, discloses that the Treasury 'has no objection' to the strategy and gives managers carte blanche without reference back to 'the centre'.

The immediate initiative came from Sir Michael, who asked for Mr Mottram's views on no-strike deals among a range of other employment issues but the new policy has also received the endorsement of Peter Levene, the Prime Minister's close adviser on civil service efficiency. Copies of the letter have been sent to Sir Robin Butler, head of the home civil service and to permanent secretaries throughout Whitehall.

Having given officials a free hand on the issue, Mr Mottram tells Sir Michael: 'You should be aware, however, that for a no- strike clause to be meaningful there would almost certainly have to be a collective agreement with the union(s) representing the staff concerned.' That remark will be taken by union officials as questioning the need for union recognition rather than encouraging it.

Sir Michael is also warned that unions might seek binding arbitration to settle disputes in return for acceding to a ban on industrial action. Such a provision would be against government policy, Sir Michael is reminded. None of the existing union agreements covering Whitehall includes a 'no-strike' clause and union officials can be expected to call for resistance if management seeks to impose such a restriction. The only time civil service union leaders indicated their readiness to sign a no-strike agreement was in response to Mrs Thatcher's ban on unions at the GCHQ listening post in Cheltenham.

John Sheldon, acting general secretary of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants, which represents mainly middle managers, believes Mr Mottram's letter betrays an unhealthy identification with Conservative ideology among Whitehall 'mandarins'.

Mr Sheldon said: 'The note makes clear that politicised civil servants are seriously examining union-busting strategies. This has nothing to do with efficiency: it is part of the Government's vendetta against public service. Membership is rising all over the country and we shall fight to defend union rights and to stop the market testing programme.'

The letter also shows the Government will not insist on formal equal opportunities policies at firms bidding to run state services.

Mr Mottram tells Sir Michael: 'We do not intend to require particular employment policies from outside tenderers and such requirements will not be included in tender documents.' Bids by civil servants, however - which are allowed under the strategy - will be expected to conform to Whitehall equal opportunities policies.

Mr Mottram told the Independent: 'I wrote the letter to be helpful to departments and I stand by it.'