On 18 February, PCS will begin balloting our members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea for strikes over health and safety concerns. Bosses there have forced workers to work in unsafe conditions, with more than 2,000 workers coming into work. There have been over 500 positive Covid cases at the site since September 2020.
The ballot will close on 11 March. In the meantime, we have written to every member to remind them of their Section 44 rights to refuse unsafe work. We’re continuing to press the Department for Transport, the UK government, the Welsh government, and Swansea council over this.
Our demand is that the entire site is immediately evacuated, with workers sent home on full pay. We’re prepared to negotiate an agreement for limited numbers of workers to work from the office in order to carry out essential and emergency duties, but the current situation is not acceptable.
During the first lockdown only 250 workers were working on site. There’s nothing whatsoever to justify a tenfold increase.
On 15 February, we’ll also begin balloting members in 12 courts across the UK. That ballot will run until 5 March. The issues there are similar to Swansea, with workers being compelled to come into the workplace when it’s not safe. We want the immediate closure of all courts and tribunals.
That dispute may well spread; from 22 February to 15 March, we’re running an indicative vote of members in other courts to determine whether they also want to move to formal ballots.
We also have a live ballot mandate for outsourced workers, employed by the contractor OCS, in the Ministry of Justice. They voted by 91% on a 67.8% turnout to strike over pay and conditions.
In the Department for Work and Pensions, an understanding is in place that should guarantee only 20% of the workforce having to come into the office at any one time. However, there is a risk that this will be undermined by the government’s insistence on maintaining “conditionality”, which sees benefit claimants sanctioned for missing appointments. This creates additional pressure to schedule in-person appointments, which will put both claimants and workers at risk.
In HMRC [Revenue and Customs], a referendum of members on a department-specific pay deal began on 8 February, and will run for three weeks. The offer, which the union is recommending members vote to accept, is for a three-year deal, and does entail pay increases for members. However, these are offset by changes to terms and conditions which have led PCS Independent Left and PCS Rank-and-File activists in the department to conclude that the proposal amounts to selling off conditions in exchange for higher pay.
Those activists are campaigning for a rejection of the offer.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum, it’s vital that we continue to argue for a national fightback on pay, including HMRC. If the deal is accepted, we shouldn’t allow that to prevent the union from raising additional demands on pay and conditions in that department, as part of a national campaign.
• John Moloney is the assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity