States goes to court to block pensions tribunal

THE States has started legal action against its own industrial disputes officer after he referred a long-running pension dispute to a tribunal.


Some police officers, firefighters and a selection of civil servants have maintained an argument over pensions with the States, as their employer, since public sector pension rights were changed following negotiations with staff and unions in 2016.

In February, industrial disputes officer Stuart Le Maitre referred the complaints to an industrial tribunal.

The States has objected to that and is seeking a judicial review to reverse the decision.

In an action now going through the Royal Court, it argues that Mr Le Maitre’s decision was ‘illegal, unreasonable, irrational and procedurally unfair’.

Mr Le Maitre, a former senior civil servant, resigned from the IDO post earlier this year, but told the Guernsey Press that the move was not connected with the legal action. He declined to comment further.

Since pension arrangements for public sector workers were changed in 2016, a number of members have continued to complain about the lack of individual consent given by them, alleging breach of employment contract.

A test case went to the Royal Court in 2016 which was settled by mediation with the States in 2017.

Correspondence and complaints have continued with representatives of three groups – some members of the Guernsey Police Association, a group of firefighters acting under the banner of the unrecognised ‘Association of Guernsey Fire Fighters’, and some senior civil servants, court staff, law officers and crown appointees who have been dubbed ‘The Group of 50’, but whose identities are said to be are largely unknown by the States.

Whether the complaints have ever escalated into a formal dispute is argued by the sides.

The issue was escalated by letters in January and February where the IDO ruled that ‘due to complexity’, he did not believe that conciliation would be possible and so the cases should be referred to an industrial tribunal.

The second letter contained a formal notification of the decision to refer a dispute, included terms of reference, and offered potential dates for a hearing in March and April, at which point the States started judicial review proceedings.

It said the IDO’s terms of reference were fundamentally flawed and based on a misunderstanding of the Industrial Disputes Law and jurisdiction.

‘The IDO’s decision has the potential to have very serious consequences because, among other things, if unchallenged it will lead the States into having to participate in an expensive tribunal which has no jurisdiction and no power to provide the relief it understands that the interested parties are seeking,’ it said in its argument presented to the court.

‘The ramifications of any award – which the States will contend the tribunal does not have power to make – could extend to all, or a significant number of scheme members and a very significant additional financial burden against the wider public interest.

‘This could lead to an award which would almost certainly necessitate a further expensive process of challenge. This can be avoided if the IDO’s decision is quashed.’

The case is proceeding through the Royal Court. Bailiff Richard McMahon, whose ability to rule in the case, as a beneficiary of a public sector pension, has been raised by lawyers for the States, has indicated that he can hear the judicial review claim, ruling on the basis of whether the tribunal is legally appropriate.

Defences and skeleton arguments have been requested by the court and both parties have been asked to keep dates free for a potential hearing in July or August.

n The States is currently seeking a replacement for Mr Le Maitre and his deputy, Guernsey Post chief executive Boley Smillie, who resigned at the same time.

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