PCS held an emergency meeting with senior managers from the Department for Transport on Friday 29 January, to discuss the situation at the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] complex in Swansea. Thousands of workers are still being compelled to come into the workplace even though the safety measures are totally inadequate.
We’ve demanded a massive reduction in the number of staff working in the offices; we want that brought down to the bare minimum. The union will meet the department again on 2 February and we’ll put their response to a virtual members’ meeting the following day. If their proposal isn’t satisfactory we will look towards a ballot for industrial action and other actions alongside.
On pay, a departmental-specific pay offer for workers in HMRC [Revenue and Customs] will be published on Monday 1 December. This offer will increase pay for most HMRC workers, but at the expense of detrimental contractual changes for many staff. It would leave many HMRC workers working longer hours than at present. I believe we need to fight for a national pay settlement covering all departments, and for settlements that are genuine improvements rather than paid for by contract changes. That said, the union will recommend acceptance of the offer in HMRC.
Supporters of the Independent Left network and other groupings such as PCS Rank-and-File, which works with Independent Left, in HMRC will continue to make these arguments, and will campaign for a rejection of the offer.
Even if the offer is accepted, we should still argue for HMRC workers to be part of any national pay fight. Accepting what’s on the table shouldn’t preclude members from being part of a wider campaign for further improvements.
In the Department for Work and Pensions, we are moving closer to getting working arrangements that should have 20% of the workforce working in offices at any one time, on a rotating basis. But even if that is agreed, we are likely to need to mobilise to defend and reinforce it very soon against any renewed back-to-work push from government and the employer, who may push to lift restrictions as infection rates fall. In the here and now, whilst waiting for the IT kit and software to be rolled out, we continue to argue for staff to be sent home on full pay.
On Saturday 30 January, I spoke at an online rally organised by Labour Movement Solidarity with Hong Kong, alongside speakers including Lee Cheuk-yan, the General Secretary of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the independent union federation on the island. Along with over 50 other democracy activists, Lee faces trial and imprisonment under the draconian “National Security Law” imposed by the Chinese Communist Party. The independent civil servants’ union in Hong Kong recently dissolved, after civil servants, who as a norm are deemed to be politically neutral, were forced to swear a loyalty oath to the Chinese state. PCS has passed policy supporting the labour and democracy movements in Hong Kong, and will continue to participate in efforts to make practical solidarity with them.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service workers’ union, writing here in a personal capacity.