The strike at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea, from 6-9 April, was very solid. Workers there were striking against having been forced to come into the physical workplace in far greater numbers than necessary. Around 2,000 workers have been made to come in, when during the first lockdown, numbers in the low hundreds were required on site to perform essential and emergency work only.
We estimate that, of that 2,000 or so, around 1,400 joined the strike, so that’s a significant number and one that’s had a big impact on the work there. I think the employer was waiting to see how effective the strike would be before responding to us. We’re available for negotiations over the coming week, but we won’t just be sitting by the phone waiting for a call from the boss, our reps and members will be planning the next round of industrial action, which we’ll continue until we make gains.
There has been a considerable level of support for the dispute on social media, which is heartening and especially important as, due to the nature of the dispute and the demands involved, we decided not to go for physical picket lines. But the most important thing to emerge so far is that the dispute has galvanised a new layer of activists, many of them young, and drawn them into union activity. Whatever else comes out of this dispute, we have to empower those activists and give them the tools to consolidate workplace strength at the site.
Our members working for the outsourced contractor OCS in the Ministry of Justice were due to strike from 13-15 and 20-22 April. They’re demanding a real living wage. The employer initially offered an increase of just 13p per hour, which is frankly insulting. OCS has now made an improved pay offer, and our reps have suspended those strikes. We’ll now ballot our OCS members on whether to accept the new offer. The new offer would not have been made without the threat of strikes, so that’s an important step. However, the new offer doesn’t meet our full demands, so even if it’s accepted, it’s important we keep up our organisation and activity on the contract.
Things are heating up in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which is one of the biggest civil service departments. From Monday 12 April, DWP bosses want a greater number of job coaches back in job centres, conducting face-to-face interviews with a wider number of claimants. Despite falling infection rates, while some restrictions are still in place we believe it’s right to restrict face-to-face interviews to a minimum.
There is an element of individual discretion there, so the bosses are claiming it’s voluntary, but we know there’s a widespread application of pressure/inducement to workers to come in.
We held meetings of reps, and wider all-members’ meetings, last week. We haven’t yet moved towards any formal action, such as a ballot, but I think things are moving in that direction. One possibility might be selective regional ballots in the areas where bosses are applying the most pressure.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity