BEIS strike from 19 July (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 13 July, 2021 - 7:27
BEIS strike

Our outsourced worker members at the government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will strike for three days, from 19 July. These are workers who’ve had to come into work throughout the pandemic, despite the buildings they service being mostly empty. They’re fighting for increased pay, a bonus for having worked through lockdown, and annual leave entitlement owed from last year.

On 14 July we’ll get the result of our ballot of cleaners and toilet attendants in Royal Parks, who’re resisting potential job cuts and who want party of terms with those who work direct for the Parks. We’re confident of a good result in that ballot, and will discuss what action to take with members. In the Ministry of Justice, we’re waiting for an improved offer from the contractor OCS, which employs security guards. And in the Cabinet Office, our security guard members, employed by Mitie, will decide whether to move to a ballot following Mitie’s next offer.

One of the issues there is Mitie’s refusal to withdraw a threat to use “fire and rehire” tactics. That’s an issue we’re pushing on elsewhere in the civil service. Along with other unions organising in the civil service in Scotland, we’ve written to Nicola Sturgeon demanding the Scottish government commits to writing a clause into its procurement policy that it will not contract to any company unless it commits not using fire and rehire. Nicola Sturgeon usually personally replies when written to by the unions, but this letter received a bland response from a civil servant. This is a government that claims to be progressive and pro-trade-union, but won’t, as an employer, take the step of banning fire and rehire. We’re making similar demands of the Labour government in Wales and of the Labour administration in City Hall in London.

New ballot at Swansea DVLA

In our dispute at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea, we’re making preparations for a new ballot, as the original six-month mandate will expire soon. It’ll be a key test for the dispute; I’m confident our reps and activists on the ground will be able to secure a new mandate for action.

After 19 July, we’re expecting a renewed “back to the workplace” push from bosses. We’re reiterating our demands that no-one be forced back, and return to physical workplaces is voluntary. We want workplace-specific risk assessments carried out by union safety reps, looking at issues such as ventilation. We’re also using the opportunity to strengthen union organisation in specific workplaces. Wherever there are buildings that have multiple departments in them, we want reps from those departments to collaborate and set up building-wide safety committees, rather than only focusing on management in their own department.

Organising the unorganised

On Saturday 10 July, I spoke on a panel on “organising the unorganised” at Workers’ Liberty’s Ideas for Freedom event. Since being elected, much of my work has focused on building union strength amongst outsourced workers, historically seen by much of the labour movement as too hard to organise. For me, the focus has to be on organising campaigns and disputes around specific demands, not promoting the union as a service provider or insurance policy.

On the issue of sick pay, for example, this needs to be made an organising issue. The TUC has a campaign demanding full sick pay but it’s extremely notional. The TUC doesn’t coordinate its affiliates to tackle the out sourcing companies on a company wide basis and there is no pressure on the Labour Party to draft bills, or even to ensure Labour councils pay full pay for sickness and isolation.

Unions won’t grow if we aren’t able to turn issues like that into campaigns used to build organisation in the workplace.

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

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