The civil service in the crisis

Submitted by AWL on 7 April, 2020 - 7:46 Author: John Moloney
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We now have a civil-service wide agreement that all outsourced workers will be paid in full if their workplaces shut down, or they have to self isolate.

We are awaiting confirmation they will receive full sick pay as well. The union has to be active in policing the agreement.

There are agency staff in some government departments, doing processing and admin work, and the employer has agreed to furlough them on 80% pay if they have to self isolate etc. That’s better than nothing, as the risk was that their contracts would simply be terminated, but the union is pushing for those workers to be paid in full, and longer-term for them to be civil servants.

The inequality of contractual arrangements flags up the injustice of outsourcing and agency labour. Wherever we’ve won agreements to equalise conditions, such as sick pay, during the pandemic, we need to agitate, starting now, for a policy of “no going back”. We won’t accept a return to inequality, and outsourced workers not being able to afford to be sick, once the pandemic is over.

In general our policy is to have as few workers as physically possible in the workplace itself, and to maximise the number of people who are able to remain at home on full pay. The more workers there are in the workplace, the harder it is to distance safely.

There have been two offices where our members have taken action to win safer workplaces — a Home Office site in Liverpool, where management conceded five of workers’ seven demands after a three-hour walkout, and a DWP office where a walkout secured commitments to put increased safety measures in place.

This crisis has shown that senior managers running the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and Acas are not working in the interests of workers. The HSE has proven itself entirely toothless, utterly failing to enforce legislation. Acas has issued guidance that disciplinary hearings can be carried out via telephone, meaning bosses can sack workers with a phone call. These bodies are meant to be independent, set up to enforce legislation, but in a moment of crisis they seem to be firmly on the employers’ side. Our policy is that disciplinary processes, redundancies, and office closures should all be suspended for the time of the crisis.

We want health and safety legislation and public health guidance to be complied with in full. We as a union will apply pressure at a national level, and we remind members that they have rights, and can act to assert those rights. Workers should not feel like they are chained to their workplace. Wherever our members take action to improve safety, we will support them. We won’t allow our members to be made ill, or potentially die, because bosses are more interested in forcing people to work than in ensuring safety.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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