Statutory ballot in DWP? (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 23 September, 2020 - 7:58 Author: John Moloney
PCS DWP picket line

The consultative ballot of our members in Job Centres returned an overwhelming majority in favour of industrial action over safety concerns. The union's Group Executive Committee for the Department for Work and Pensions meets on Tuesday 22 September and will discuss whether to proceed to a formal, statutory ballot, which they're very likely to do.

Anyone who was wavering on whether action is necessary is likely to have been galvanised by events in recent days. Management is increasing the number of claimants required to attend physical meetings at Job Centres, which is a huge risk given spiking infection rates. There are no adequate measures in place to ensure distancing between claimants, and no provision of face coverings or any requirement to wear them.

Against the backdrop of spiking infection rates and the second wave of the pandemic, this puts both claimants and DWP workers at risk.

We also expect DWP bosses to reinforce "conditionality" sanctions, which were formally reintroduced in August but which have so far been only lightly enforced. Claimants, particularly those in vulnerable groups, who don't feel safe to physically visit Job Centres could see their benefits cut. The union continues to demand the revocation of "conditionality."

The other civil service department which has been making a concerted "back-to-the-office" drive is HMRC, which has been demanding staff are present in offices at least one day a week. Reps and activists are discussing a potential dispute and ballot there. Beyond DWP and HMRC, the "back-to-the-office" drive has been patchy.

The strike against redundancies at Tate galleries is continuing, and there may also be action at the Southbank Centre, where workers are also facing job cuts. Management there have now offered somewhat improved redundancy packages, but these still aren't satisfactory.

As we face the second wave of Covid-19, the union will step up our "Dying for Sick Pay" campaigning. We want an agreement that outsourced workers in civil service departments will be paid in full for periods of sickness and isolation extended beyond its current 31 October deadline, and ultimately made permanent. That's part of our wider policy for direct employment of all currently outsourced workers. We're building links with other unions over these issues, including the United Voices of the World, who organise outsourced workers in the Ministry of Justice and some other civil service workplaces, and the Bakers' Union, who are campaigning over similar issues in their industry.

The recent TUC annual congress passed multiple motions on the issue of sick pay, acknowledging that full sickness and isolation pay were an essential infection control measure. Now the labour movement needs to organise action to win this demand. Grassroots campaigns like Safe and Equal can play a vital role in catalysing that campaigning.

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

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