Sticking issue in Royal Parks

Submitted by AWL on 9 November, 2021 - 6:40 Author: John Moloney
Royal Parks / Just Ask strike

In my last column, I reported that the month-long strike by outsourced workers in Royal Parks had forced a major concession, with Just Ask, the outsourced contractor, proposing to increase sick pay entitlement from six days to a maximum of three months, depending on length of service. But they wanted a whole range of differentials to apply, so that only certain workers would get the increased sick pay. They have now backed down from that, so length of service will be the only variable affecting sick pay entitlement.

Obviously, the ideal would be maximum entitlement for all workers from day one, but this is an undoubtedly a massive concession to have forced, and one that has only been won via determined industrial action.

The contractor has also agreed to formally recognise PCS. The other issue in the dispute, job cuts, is still in the background, but the employer has backed away from their specific proposals for cuts this year that were part of what sparked the dispute in the first place, so that is progress too, in that cuts have at least been staved off for now.

One stumbling block is that JustAsk is victimising one of the strikers, and using their participation in industrial action against them as part of a probation process. We believe this is clearly unlawful; I don’t think we can settle the dispute with the threat of dismissal hanging over one of the workers involved. If we can get that issue resolved, we will put the employer’s offer to a vote.

In our dispute with the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), our driving examiner members have accepted an employer’s offer with 90% of members voted yes to the deal, on a turnout of 69%. The dispute focused on a plan to impose increased workload, forcing full time examiners to conduct eight tests per day, rather than the current maximum of seven. In the new offer, the employer has committed not to impose that increase for at least 12 months. The workers involved definitely feel that to be a victory.

On Saturday 6 November I spoke at the rally of the trade union bloc, which was part of the large climate change protest in central London. Clearly it’s good to see tens of thousands come out onto the streets across the country, and we had a good PCS contingent on that union bloc. The real challenge is what happens now. We need an independent union campaign around the big political demands, including a worker-led transition to renewables and democratic public ownership of the energy sector. There are splits in the labour movement on some of the key questions, with unions like GMB and Unite backing airport expansion and some continued fossil fuel extraction. Those debates have to be had, but the unions that do share a radical policy approach need to act on it now.

Climate change also has to be made a workplace organising issue. In PCS, I hope committees of reps will develop decarbonisation plans for their own workplaces. This dovetails with our efforts to get building-wide committees of safety reps established in buildings where multiple civil service departments have offices. One of the issues those committees can take up and make demands about is climate change, looking at the carbon footprint of civil service workplaces. This isn’t about tinkering-around-the-edges stuff like getting more recycling bins in offices, but rather the big questions, for example where civil service departments are sourcing the energy to power and heat buildings from.

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

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