Victory on sick pay (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 15 July, 2020 - 6:56 Author: John Moloney
Emanuel Gomes campaign

Outsourced workers at the Ministry of Justice, organised by the United Voices of the World (UVW) and PCS unions, have won a significant concession from OCS, the outsourced contractor.

After a substantial campaign, spurred on by the tragic death of UVW member Emanuel Gomes, who died after working through his symptoms due to being refused full sick pay, OCS has agreed to retrospectively pay full sick pay for workers who’ve taken time off since April, for a period of up to 14 days.

There’s still more to fight for, as OCS is still refusing to make an open-ended commitment to pay full sickness and isolation pay in all circumstances going forward, but it is a major victory and a testament to the good work UVW have done in the workplace. We’re meeting with UVW next week, and plan ongoing joint working in Ministry of Justice. We want to organise so that if either union goes into dispute, the other union will join them.

In the Department for Work and Pensions, many job centres did not reopen more widely to the public, despite the government’s push for this. Union reps are challenging management risk assessments at workplace level, often issuing “Union Improvement Notices”, which are demands for additional safety measures. In some places, where mitigating safety measures, such as perspex screens, were not able to be installed in time, those job centres did not reopen. The union has rejected the overall departmental risk assessment, which we believe may even be unlawful. Our position remains that reopening is not safe, and we’re continuing to support members in resisting.

The reintroduction of conditionality and sanctioning of claimants, which PCS opposes, has been pushed back to 16 July. Given the massive spike in unemployment, insisting new UC claims take place in person could lead to a stronger “back-to-work” push, which we’ll need to organise to resist.

PCS reps in other sectors have been doing excellent work; the union’s Culture Group, which organises in museums, galleries, arts centres, and heritage sites, have won significant concessions on things like furlough arrangements. There is a significant threat posed, however, by the uncertain funding situation for this sector, which employers could use to attempt to cut jobs and attacks terms and conditions. Workers at Hampton Court are already facing wage cuts.

We’ll also be redoubling our campaigning for the in-housing of work like cleaning, catering, and security. Direct employment ensures greater transparency, and forces the central employer to take responsibility for the conditions of everyone who makes the job run.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.

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