PCS victory on Apprenticeships

Members Briefing

Date:  5 May 2020



Summary: Department announces wholesale changes to apprenticeship terms and conditions


PCS can confirm the department has written to all externally recruited apprentices informing them of changes to their contracts of employment from 1 April 2020.  The letters informed Level 3 apprentices that they will be moved on to the relevant substantive grade (Administrative Officer spot rate) and permanent contracts from 1st April 2020.

This is a significant victory for members and the union. PCS action has resulted in a near £7,000 per year pay increase for some of our lowest paid members.


Since April 2017, the department has been externally recruiting apprentices to Level 3 apprenticeship grades at a substantially lower than salary their AO colleagues. Until April 2020 apprentice salaries were £15,123 (National) and £18,148 (London). Home Office AOs are on salaries of £21,011 (National) and £25,124 (London).

The department has also written to existing Apprentices currently on substantive salaries/grades and Fixed Term Appointments moving them to permanent contracts on the basis the business can sustain the role longer term as part of the settlement.  There are no changes to T&Cs for existing Apprentices currently on substantive salaries/grades and Fixed Term Appointments.

The announcement of the changes for apprentices is a significant victory for PCS at every level of the union – PCS has been campaigning and negotiating to remove what we believe are the exploitative elements within department’s apprenticeship schemes for a considerable period of time.

Campaign history

From the start of the apprenticeship programme PCS has campaigned for them to be remunerated at the grade of their work.  PCS believed that the situation was completely unfair to those members on apprenticeships but was also unsustainable on business grounds.

As previously reported when the department’s original learning provider, Premier Partners, collapsed PCS secured the conversion of affected Level 3 apprentices to permanent positions with promotion to the AO grade backdated to the termination of the learning provider’s contract.

Following this victory PCS Home Office Group continued to challenge on apprenticeships. The Home Office found it difficult to justify why apprentices were required to complete AO equivalent duties when recruited on lower salaries.  There was also a huge drop out rate for apprentices as they left on promotion and to permanent roles.

In late August 2019 PCS were made aware of plans by Border Force to freeze AO recruitment – including at ports and airports – and replace it with the recruitment of 495 new apprentices at the lower salary.  PCS identified that the Border Force actions breached the Cabinet Office Agreement on Apprenticeships on several different levels – and the grade requirements for members to legally undertake certain work at the borders.

PCS Group prepared a campaign plan at branch and Group level for launch at the earliest opportunity after the newly called general election through the PCS Parliamentary and Press departments. Mark Serwotka, our General Secretary, wrote to the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office highlighting the potential damage to the department’s reputation from the Border Force apprenticeship recruitment exercise.

The letter highlighted that – with Brexit approaching – the Border Force exercise opened the government to accusations that it was trying to run UK borders “on the cheap”, with inexperienced staff on poor wages, who may not be authorised to undertake the tasks they carry out.

In January 2020 the Permanent Secretary responded to Mark Serwotka stating that reward and recognition for apprentices was on the agenda for discussion at a Home Office Executive Committee meeting that month.  PCS continued to argue that positive changes should be made to contracts, highlighting the feedback that we had received from branches and members about their personal experiences and the impact on them.

In early February PCS Home Office Group received confirmation that from 1st April 2020 all apprentices were being moved to new pay scales at the relevant substantive grade and on permanent contracts. In anticipation of this, from 1st February 2020, all externally recruited apprentices would join the department at the relevant substantive grade and on permanent contracts.  Letters confirming the improvement in apprentice’s contractual terms were sent to apprentices on 4 May 2020.

This hugely significant victory shows the power the union can exert by mobilising for combined action at every level of the union – from individual members through branch, Group and national structures to the union’s leadership.

The Future

PCS work on apprenticeships is far from over. We will continue to work at branch and Group level to push for further improvements of the apprenticeship schemes. The department’s Apprenticeship Team have confirmed they will continue to engage in meaningful consultation with PCS to this end. PCS will work to ensure apprenticeships are a vehicle to promote social mobility and to give members – either those recruited externally or internal candidates joining the schemes – meaningful opportunities to improve their prospects in life.

Huge thanks go to all Home Office members and branches who have contributed to this huge win for their union.

Neil Masters
GEC Apprenticeship Lead  
Kevin Mills
Assistant Group Secretary