Forced back into the office? (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by martin on 14 September, 2021 - 8:17 Author: John Moloney
BEIS office, London

Many of our members have been in the workplace throughout the pandemic. A majority, though, have home-worked. We have always known that these members will return to the workplace some time. Our argument is that they should only do so when safe.

In September last year, the government made a concerted push to get everyone back to the workplace but that failed. This September, the concerned push has been replaced by an expectation that staff will return to the workplace for one or two days a week either this month or in October. The union is opposed to any moves to force staff back.

Our outsourced members in Royal Parks met on 8 September to discuss the next steps in their fight for improved working conditions and greater parity with directly employed staff. Their decision was that, should the employer not meet their demands by the 9 September deadline we’d set, they would strike again. That deadline was not met, so those workers will launch a month-long strike throughout October.

Our ballot for our driving examiner members runs from 6-24 September. They are resisting attempts to impose an increased workload on them, moving from seven to eight tests per day. In DVLA Swansea, the local branch is discussing how they want to proceed with the campaign there, which will include setting a timetable for a renewed ballot for industrial action.

In the Department of Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the strike by outsourced members has been suspended given a new concession around health and safety. This follows improvements on pay, sick pay, maternity leave and annual leave. The strike mandate will still stay live for the time being.

In all these disputes, decisions about next steps have been taken directly by the workers themselves, in democratic meetings. This is how all decisions about industrial action should be taken throughout the labour movement; the distance between the workers taking the action and decision-making power in the union structure should be minimised as far as possible. The Independent Left grouping in PCS is planning a branch-based democracy campaign to enshrine democratic principles such as rank-and-file control of disputes more firmly in the union’s rules and culture.

• John Moloney is Assistant General Secretary of the civil service union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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