Section 44 in the civil service

Submitted by AWL on 19 May, 2020 - 6:39
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The National Executive Committee of the Public and Commercial Services union met on 13 May to discuss the union’s position on a potential back-to-work drive. This is an abridged and slighted edited version of a report published by an NEC member and supporter of the Independent Left network. The full version will be published on the Independent Left website.

Our Independent Left proposals, built around how to respond in the worst-case scenario of a mass return to work, were as follows. It was broadly agreed that 1, 2, 4 and 5 were covered by the union’s actions and/or overtaken by events. 3, about using legal rights to refuse unsafe working, was lost, with the Left Unity majority voting against whilst their former comrades who split to form the Broad Left Network voted with us.

1. That the NEC reaffirms the union’s position that no member currently away from the workplace (working at home or otherwise absent) should be asked to return.

2. That the NEC reinforces that message via various communication channels.

3. In the event that the Cabinet Office — or any other employer — refuses PCS’s position and attempts to enforce a mass return to work, the union takes the following actions:
a. A template letter is drafted for members to send if they are told to report to the workplace, citing their rights under section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 — and the law or policy position of the devolved nation where a member lives and/or working in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
b. Groups and national branches are asked to coordinate inspections across their areas to identify the risks ... in order to issue Union Inspection Notices (UINs) in response to members being forced to return to work.
c. Members are provided with the UINs, advice on their legal rights, and the template letters with instructions based upon the union’s assessment of the risks in attending their workplace.
d. Work with local safety reps and organisers to ensure that any refusal to attend work is done on a collective basis...

4. That the NEC highlights the disproportionate risk and impact upon BAME members of any reduction in lockdown measures and incorporates this into our political and campaigning activity.

5. That we ensure that facilities management workers are taken into account in PCS negotiations and actions at all levels.

There was some debate around the use of Section 44 as a basis for refusals to work. The rights under Section 44 should be seen… as a tool we can use as part of our collective union activity.

This should, of course, go hand in hand with wider organisational and campaigning activity to bring pressure to bear on the employer.

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