Taxpayers are footing an annual wage bill of at least £5 million for full-time trade union officials placed inside the civil service – 65 per cent more than previously thought.
By Robert Watts, Deputy Political Editor
4:20PM GMT 17 Dec 2011
Ministers were initially told by that there were only 150 so-called “pilgrims” in Whitehall, but the government has now established that there are more than 250 across the civil service.
Earlier this month David Cameron wrote that the use of taxpayers’ money to fund trade union activity “cannot be sustained, either morally or economically”.
The Cabinet Office is poised to launch a consultation on the cost and activities of such officials early in the New Year. While ministers believe such officials can be helpful to resolve workplace disputes, avert industrial tribunals and organising training course for staff, there is concern at how much these trade union placemen now cost the taxpayer.
The average full-time civil service salary is £22,100 suggesting that the full cost of trade union pilgrims is now around £5.5 million. However, this figure does not take account of pension payments, National Insurance contributions and other costs.
Ministers remain dismayed that trade union leaders held a one-day strike over proposed changes to public sector pensions last month, even though talks were ongoing.
Senior Conservatives are also investigating ending the “check off” facility, whereby trade union subs are deducted directly from a civil servant’s pay packet.
The arrangement comes at a cost to the taxpayer and unions fear that their membership and revenues would fall sharply if the system was stopped.
A well-placed Whitehall source said: “The government is looking seriously at ending these automatic deductions. If the unions continue to be unreasonable over pensions, this is a weapon the government has in the pocket. It is seen as the nuclear option.”
One senior minister has said that the “check off” system would only be axed in the event of “total war” with the unions.
Although the system does cost taxpayers money, a source within the coalition said the system has its uses. “It allows us to identify who are trade union members and exactly where they work,” the source said.