Near victory in Royal Parks dispute

Submitted by AWL on 16 November, 2021 - 6:09 Author: John Moloney
Royal Parks workers

Last week I wrote that one of our members in the Royal Parks dispute was facing victimisation. Until that threat was lifted we couldn’t settle the dispute. The good news is that the threat of dismissal has now been withdrawn, and the member’s probation period has been extended, which is the outcome he was looking for. That means we can move forward with discussion around the employer’s offer.

That offer includes the recognition of PCS, significant enhancement of sick pay arrangements, and improvements in many contractual terms. We’ll discuss the offer with members at a meeting on Thursday 18, and, if members approve, it will be put to a ballot.

We could therefore be close to a victory in a dispute that has seen outsourced workers, who are dual members of PCS and the United Voices of the World union, launch sustained strikes. The central factor has been their resolve and determination to take the action necessary to win. Fundraising to ensure adequate strike pay has also been essential.

Less positive is the news that the new ballot of our members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea, for renewed action over workplace safety, failed to hit the 50% turnout threshold. Around 80% of members voted for renewed action, but we didn’t meet the threshold. In any other area of democratic life, that would be seen as a clear mandate. But because of restrictive anti-union laws, we’re prevented from calling lawful action. It’s not only the turnout threshold, but the fact unions are forced to ballot members individually, by post, rather than being allowed to hold workplace votes or ballot electronically — all these laws are consciously designed to restrict strikes and entrench the power of employers.

The result is obviously disappointing, but we’re not giving up. We’ll review our demands, and if the employer continues to refuse them then we will consider launching new ballots on a disaggregated basis, balloting the different workplaces and sections at the complex individually.

There’s also an ongoing discussion amongst our reps in the Department for Work and Pensions about possible disputes over workplace safety there. My view all along is that we should launch ballots if possible in the DWP. Any action taken, even if just a handful of branches at first, could galvanise the rest of the department into activity.

We are preparing to launch a new campaign about maternity policy. We’ve developed a set of demands which we’ll be submitting to every civil service department before the end of the year. We’re demanding 52 weeks of maternity leave on full pay, the abolition of length-of-service limitations in the current policy, additional extended maternity leave in cases where new-borns need neonatal care and end up staying in hospital. We’re also demanding improvements to the policy around miscarriages.

If someone miscarries at 23 weeks and six days, they’re not currently entitled to any maternity leave. That has to change. If you lose a baby, you should be allowed paid time off. We’ll be organising a national campaign around these demands as well.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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