Progress in DWP (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 19 January, 2021 - 5:50 Author: John Moloney
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Our members continue to fight for safer working, especially in departments where workers continue to be in the physical workplace. We’re making some progress in the Department for Work and Pensions, where management have proposed an arrangement that would see 80% of workers working from home, with 20% coming into physical workplaces, hopefully on a rotating basis. That would be a stark reversal of management’s position in a department where up to 60% of workers have been working in physical workplaces.

Bosses in DWP though are currently dragging their feet over implementing increased homeworking, saying that they need certain software certificates. We’ve said that workers should just be sent home; it’s management’s responsibility to ensure the technology is in place — our members should not have to expose themselves to greater risk in the meantime. There are other ongoing issues in the DWP, including the issue of “conditionality” and sanctions for benefit claimants.

In the court system, we’re pushing for all hearings to be virtual as far as possible. The current position there is essentially business as usual, with hearings taking place in person and court staff, from the Ministry of Justice, compelled to come into work. The Group Executive Committee for the Ministry of Justice is discussing what action workers could take to force concessions from management. There are several courts across the country where we may soon move to ballots for industrial action.

The DVLA complex in Swansea continues to be a hot-spot. It’s a large complex of numerous buildings, with around 2,000 workers coming into work each day. Management has offered a deal whereby that would be reduced to 1,000, but with weekend working. The local branch has rightly rejected that proposal. We’ve been supported there by Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister of Wales, who has written to the DVLA supporting our demand for staff to be sent home.

On 30 January, I’ll speak at an online rally organised by the Labour Movement Solidarity with Hong Kong campaign. Trade unionists and democracy activists are facing intense repression. In particular, we want to make links with civil service workers, whose union has sadly recently disbanded as its members were pressured by the government to take a loyalty oath to uphold the new “National Security Law”. Supporting workers’ rights to organise independently of the state, and for fundamental democratic rights, is a matter of basic class solidarity.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, personal capacity.

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