We think we’re close to an agreement with the Cabinet Office that all outsourced workers on the civil service estate will get full pay if they go off sick and self-isolation, where previously they’d only have had access to Statutory Sick Pay or in some cases they would not be paid at all.
We’ve won that agreement in some departments already, such as BEIS London, where the union is strong locally, and the outsourced workers have a recent history of struggle. But in other places the outsourced contractors have been holding out, so we want a central agreement with the employer to ensure all outsourced workers are covered. If we secure that, we’ll fight to ensure there’s no going back, and that, once the pandemic is over, outsourced workers aren’t forced back into a situation where they can’t afford to be sick.
We’ve already secured a number of basic agreements covering directly-employed civil servants, such as that no Covid-related absence, whether sickness or self-isolation, will count towards attendance monitoring or disciplinary procedures, and that all workers will be fully paid for periods of self-isolation. One thing the employer is resistant to is an agreement that workers who have a vulnerable dependent will be fully paid if they choose to stay home in order to protect them, so we’re continuing to push on that.
Many civil servants are currently working from home, and we want to increase those numbers as much as possible so as to reduce the numbers at risk in the workplace. The union will shortly be issuing guidance to branches and workplace groups on what members should do if they feel they’re being asked to work in an unsafe way — how can you challenge that, what action can you take, and how you can use the legislation to collectively refuse to carry out those unsafe tasks.
We have already had a group of members at an office in Liverpool walk off the job, after reps conducted a workplace inspection and found no hand gels available, no increase in the cleaning regime, and inadequate safety and risk-minimisation measures. After a three-hour walkout by the workers, management agreed to put improvements in place. We want an agreement with the national employer to compel local management to put adequate safety measures in place, but in advance of that, or where it’s not adhered to, we’ll support our members in taking action locally to ensure workers are protected.
It’s vital that the union continues to function to the fullest extent possible through the crisis. We’ve recruited 1,000 new members in the last weeks, and to retain and organise them we need to be active. The union nationally is gearing up to provide branches with the tools to function, whether that’s teleconferencing or apps like Zoom. We’re also holding events nationally, such as Zoom calls for reps. The union will not by any means be shutting down.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity