Our members working at the DVLA complex in Swansea have voted by large majorities for industrial action - 71.6% for strikes, and 76.9% for action short of strikes - to win improvements to workplace safety. This workplace saw one of the worst Covid outbreaks in the UK, but the employer has forced over 2,000 staff to continue to come into work every day. The vast majority could and should be working from home; during the first lockdown only 250 staff were on site carrying out essential work.
In the Ministry of Justice, our members working for outsourced contractor OCS are continuing a fight for improved pay and conditions. They've been offered a 1.5% pay increase, equating to just 13p per hour. We're also demanding full contractual sick pay and improved holiday entitlement. Our overall policy, of course, is for in-house employment, but short of that we're waging struggles to bring our outsourced worker members' terms and conditions closer to those of directly-employed civil servants.
OCS is clearly extremely nervous about the prospects of a strike, but rather than avoiding one by meeting our demands, they're trying to prevent our action by throwing endless legal challenges at the union. It's a further reminder of how restrictive the laws around industrial action are, and how clearly they're designed to give employers multiple opportunities for obstructing strikes. It highlights the vital need for campaigns like Free Our Unions, which the PCS NEC previously voted to support, and for the whole labour movement to mobilise to oppose anti-strike legislation, demand its abolition, and confront those laws when necessary.
The OCS campaign in the Ministry of Justice has transformed union organisation there. Through the campaign, we've greatly expanded union membership and developed new layers of reps and activists. A few years back, we lost a ballot there by failing to hit the thresholds. This time around we easily cleared them, with an expanded membership. This kind of culture needs to be spread. It shows that unions grow and build by fighting, rather than presenting themselves to workers as insurance companies or service providers.
The union is also discussing the possibility of a back-to-work push from employers as the lockdown restrictions begin to ease. We don't anticipate any “big bang” whereby civil service workers are forced back into offices en masse. Our policy is that any move away from homeworking must be voluntary, and that all offices must have appropriate safety provision in place, overseen and assessed by elected union safety reps.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers' union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity