The lack of robust Covid safety measures at DVLA Swansea, mentioned before in these columns, has now been picked up by the national press. The Department for Transport has been written to twice by the Labour government of Wales, which has demanded that the numbers of workers in the physical workplace be drastically reduced.
PCS has repeatedly demanded that all workers are sent home — even those whose jobs don’t allow home working. It’s clearly not safe for people to be in the workplace at the moment, so people should be at home on full pay.
Part of the background is a catastrophic strategic failure on the part of DVLA bosses, and the Department for Transport more widely, to put the technology in place to facilitate home working. Other departments, such as DWP and HMRC, ensured workers had greater access to the necessary equipment, such as laptops and tablets, to work from home. That simply hasn’t been done in DVLA, which is part of the reason why the Agency is forcing staff into the workplace.
The union will continue to apply pressure at national level, but if departmental bosses don’t do the right thing, the decisive factor will be pressure at the workplace level. The national union leadership is discussing with reps and officers from the local branch about possible industrial action and the use of Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act [which says workers have a right to refuse unsafe work areas]. The union will shortly survey members on the use of action as well. In MoJ [Ministry of Justice], the union is looking at the possibility of ballot our members in a number of courts, which are another hotspot where workers have been forced to come into the physical workplace. We hope those ballots, if they go ahead, could be coordinated and developed into a more general action in the Court service.
The PCS National Executive Committee met on Thursday 21 January. One of the main issues discussed was pay; we’re still waiting for more details on a department-specific pay offer in HMRC [Revenue and Customs], one of the union’s largest membership areas. Although the HMRC offer is likely to lead to pay increases, bosses’ insistence on cost neutrality means those increases will come at the expense of cuts or changes elsewhere.
Throughout all these disputes and campaigns, transparency and accountability on the part of the union reps and officials negotiating with employers is essential. Members have a right to know what’s being discussed, and what proposals employers are making. We need to ensure regular communication which is clear about what the union’s demands are and the status of negotiations.