Uniting in-house and outsourced

Submitted by AWL on 20 April, 2021 - 4:45 Author: John Moloney
United Voices of the World action at Ministry of Justice

In the last week, I’ve had discussions with the United Voices of the World union (UVW), who organise outsourced workers in some parts of the civil service, including the Royal Parks. We’ve worked closely with them in the past; improving the way PCS approaches the organising of outsourced workers has been a central focus of my time in office so far, and strengthening our relationship with UVW has been part of that.

Royal Parks is re-tendering its outsourced facilities management contract, and there’s a threat to cleaners’ jobs, which could see cuts of around 50%. UVW members have previously struck in Royal Parks, and they’ve recently voted again to take industrial action, by 100% on a 90% turnout.

I’ve taken the issue up within PCS. As the union that organises the directly-employed staff, we can use our negotiations with the employer to add weight to outsourced workers’ demands. Our reps will be seeking guarantees from Royal Parks management that there won’t be cuts to cleaners’ jobs, and if those guarantees aren’t secured, we’ll discuss what we can do to support any strike by UVW members.

On Monday 19 April, I’m due to address the union’s Wales committee to discuss, amongst other things, climate change. PCS has very progressive climate policy, and we need to discuss enacting that throughout the union, and tying it into our workplace activity. We want to use our organisation in the civil service and government departments in Wales to make demands of the Welsh government for radical climate action.

Throughout the civil service, I’m leading discussions on how to confront the system of negotiation, which is patchwork and allows the employer to negotiate as a single bloc when it suits them, but to practise fragmented delegation to departmental sub-committees when they deem it in their interests. We’re looking to mount a challenge to the legal foundation of this system, and as a result, we’ll shortly have the first meeting the union has held with the Cabinet Office in some time to discuss the negotiation structure.

Our members at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea, who struck from 6-9 April, will strike again in the coming weeks unless talks, which resume on 19 April, produce guarantees around homeworking. In the Ministry of Justice, a new pay offer from OCS, the contractor employing cleaners and other facilities management staff, will go out to ballot. That offer was secured via the threat of strikes, which is positive, although it doesn’t meet our demands for a full living wage.

In the Department for Work and Pensions, bosses have now announced they want all staff to return to the physical workplace at least one or two days a week. That is a significant escalation of their back-to-work push. Our Group Executive Committee has decided to conduct indicative ballots of our members to see if they’d be prepared to take industrial action. I understand the arguments for that, but my personal view is that we should move more quickly to formal ballots. We already have a sense of where local management is applying the most pressure, and we need to act quickly.

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

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