Reopening call centre as infections rise?

Submitted by AWL on 5 January, 2021 - 5:47 Author: John Moloney
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The vast bulk of PCS members continue to work from home. This throws into sharp relief the struggle of those of our members who have to attend the workplace.

The call centre in Swansea has reopened on 4 January. Swansea is a Covid hotspot, in a country with some of the highest Covid rates in the world; the call centre in particular has been badly affected. Our view is that it’s not safe for that workplace to be open and so we are in discussions with the branch and Groups as to what should be done.

Given the current increase in infections, driving tests have been suspended in many areas. As a consequence, a planned strike of Driving Examiners has been suspended, but that situation may change. Outsourced workers in the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) voted by a 94% majority on a 73.7% turnout for strikes to demand to be accommodated away from the office — catering workers, security staff, cleaners, and porters, and others are still being forced into work despite the building they service being almost empty. Negotiations there are ongoing.

Within the union, we continue to discuss perspective and strategy over UK civil service pay. Most of our members face a pay freeze in 2021, and the union is determined to deliver serious action on that. One challenge is posed by the fact that bosses in HMRC, a department which represents our second largest membership bloc, will offer members there a department-specific, three-year pay deal.

It’s difficult to tell workers to turn down a pay increase in current conditions, but at the same time departmental deals which involve changes to contracts and that divide our membership could severely weaken any potential fight back, so the discussion will have to be approached sensitively.

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

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