We are moving towards a ballot of our members working at the DVLA [Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency] complex in Swansea. Safety measures there have been totally inadequate and thousands of people still being compelled to come into the workplace. This is unacceptable, a view shared by members who in a meeting on 2 February voted 80% for industrial action.
Barring a complete climbdown by the employer, we’ll proceed with a ballot as quickly as possible given the legal restrictions and requirements around notice periods and so on. This is yet another example of how the anti-strike laws function as brakes on workers’ ability to act, even in defence of basic safety. We’re also continually reminding members of their Section 44 rights, which as individual rights don’t need a ballot.
Our members working as outsourced cleaners and security workers for the contractor OCS in the Ministry of Justice have voted by a 91% majority for industrial action to win demands including a living wage, increased annual leave, and full contractual sick pay. Early on the pandemic, we won an agreement that the bulk of outsourced workers would be paid in full for periods of sickness and self-isolation, but that’s been patchily enforced in some departments, and in any case is not a contractual guarantee. All workers should have access to full sick pay all the time, not just as an emergency measure in the pandemic. There have been outsourced workers’ struggles in the Ministry of Justice previously, and we’ve worked with the United Voices of the World union who also have members there.
We also plan to ballot directly-employed Ministry of Justice workers in ten courts over safety issues. The court system is one of the areas of the civil service where workers have continued to be forced to come into the workplace. We believe everything except the most urgent and emergency work can be conducted remotely.
The Group Executive Committee for the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] will meet again soon, and will review the situation in that department in terms of workplace safety and home working. Some progress has been made there but it will be kept under review, and if our reps don’t feel it’s satisfactory, we can move into dispute if necessary.
A referendum on the department-specific pay offer in HMRC [Revenue and Customs] is now underway, and is due to close on 12 February. As discussed in previous columns, Independent Left and PCS Rank-and-File activists in that department are campaigning for a rejection of the offer. Even if it is accepted, we need to continue to make the case for a national campaign on pay, involving all departments.