Workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea will strike again from 4-8 May. We’re continuing to fight there over the fact our members are being compelled to come into the workplace, in a way we believe is unsafe. The employer has made some concessions in negotiations, but these relate mainly to changes in the medium-term future, around greater provision for homeworking. We need action right now — centrally for all on-site working, except for emergency and absolutely essential work, to be suspended.
We’re also demanding agreements that will give the union direct input in setting on-site staffing levels in the coming months as the economy opens and more and more staff potentially could return to the workplace. The government’s official scientific-advice committee SAGE is predicting that there will be a third wave, though hopefully much less severe than the other two. In that regard, the principle of workers’ control is guiding us here. We want workers, through their elected union representatives, to have the maximum degree of control over how their workplaces are organised. If infections take off as staff return, then staff must go back home.
Our outsourced members in the Ministry of Justice, working for the contractor OCS, are still voting on a new pay offer, and in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), we’re conducting a number of indicative ballots which could lead to formal ballots over workplace safety. As I’ve written previously, this is not the strategy I personally advocate, as I believe we needed to move swiftly to formal ballots. But our Group Executive Committee for the DWP decided to go for indicative ballots first. Hopefully those will return strong mandates, and we can move to formal ballots as soon as possible.
The DWP is a key department, as it’s the largest civil service department in terms of the number of people employed and therefore a major membership base for the union.
I’ve had further correspondence with the United Voices of the World (UVW) union to discuss deepening our collaboration. In particular we’ll be supporting UVW members in Royal Parks as they endeavour to resist job cuts that might accompany the re-tendering of an outsourced cleaning contract.
On Monday 19 April, the union met with the Cabinet Office to discuss bargaining arrangements in the civil service. I’m pushing for a radical change in these. The current bargaining and negotiation machinery is set up explicitly to benefit the employer. A system called “delegation” allows bosses to fragment workers into dozens of different bargaining units. All this is governed by the Civil Service Management Code. Yet the Code also places these units under a number of obligations that they frequently ignore. Therefore we are getting the worse of all worlds.
The key strategic goal of the union is that there be national agreements on pay and terms and conditions, which means ending delegation. We won’t leap straight to that from where we are now, but we’ve started a process of pushing towards it. The 19 April meeting was the first meeting of its type on the issue for many, many years.
Elections for the union’s National Executive Committee are now underway. The PCS Independent Left (IL) is standing a slate, advocating greater rank-and-file democracy and militant industrial strategies. They are also working with the PCS Rank-and-File network in the HMRC. I was elected as an IL candidate for Assistant General Secretary and I believe the IL platform is the one that offers the best way forward for civil service workers and the PCS as a union.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity