Workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea will strike again from 4-8 May to demand improvements to safety. The branch is committed to taking further action if our demands are not met.
Although the Covid numbers are trending the right way, we don’t know when a third wave could hit, how severe it could be, or what might happen with new variants. We need agreements in place now to ensure there aren’t more workers on site than necessary. At its heart this is a fight for a form of workers’ control. We want to ensure a direct say for workers’ representatives in determining on-site staffing levels.
We’re also developing a separate fight in DVLA over sickness policy. DVLA has the lowest sickness trigger point (i.e., the amount of time off sick you can have before you are potentially subject to disciplinary action) of any section of the Department for Transport (DfT). It’s also the only section of DfT with a majority-female workforce, and we therefore believe this discrepancy in its sickness policy could be a form of indirect discrimination.
There needs to be a labour-movement-wide push against all forms of punitive sickness policy. Policies that tell workers they can only have a certain number of days off sick before they’ll be disciplined effectively pressure workers to come to work when they’re not well. As the experience of the pandemic has shown, that can have disastrous public health impacts.
I’ve recently met against with officials from the United Voices of the World union to discuss our collaboration in Royal Parks, where UVW organises outsourced cleaners. There are some exciting developments I hope to be able to report in subsequent weeks. I’m not interested in issuing passive statements of support for their members’ campaigns. Our discussions focus on how the PCS can use our resources and infrastructure to help workers win. I am an industrial unionist — I believe all workers in a give workplace or sector should be in the same union. But I am not territorial or proprietary. My primary concern is how workers can win concessions from the employer, whichever union they’re part of.
We’re also discussing with UVW how we can support, and possibly emulate, legal challenges they’re pursuing around outsourcing and procurement policies. They are exploring a number of legal cases around the claim that outsourcing may be a form of indirect racial discrimination, as it invariably means majority-BAME and majority-migrant outsourced workforces have significantly worse conditions than directly-employed workers, who tend to be majority-white. Legal challenges aren’t a substitute for workplace organisation and industrial action, but they can help supplement it.
In the Department for Work and Pensions, we’ll be running indicative ballots in May to see if members want to move towards formal industrial action ballots over workplace safety. DWP bosses have made clear they want a generalised move back to the physical workplace, albeit a staggered one. We believe that’s unsafe. They also want to bring increasing numbers of claimants back for face-to-face interviews, and step up the sanctioning regime. We need to combine those issues, and ensure our fight for workers’ safety is also a fight for claimants’ rights.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, writing here in a personal capacity