Our members in the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea struck again on 2-6 June, in their ongoing dispute to win improved workplace safety, and a greater say for workers in determining those measures.
Immediately prior to the last strike, the local branch felt that an acceptable deal had been on the table. But at the eleventh hour, two elements of that deal — additional cash payments and additional annual leave compensation for workers who’ve been compelled to work at the physical workplace during the pandemic — were unilaterally withdrawn. We don’t know where the instruction to withdraw those elements came from, but it almost certainly required ministerial intervention. As far as the union is concerned, Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary of State, is ultimately responsible.
There’ll be further strikes in the week starting 7 June, followed by an ongoing campaign of selective action for the foreseeable future. Six local MPs have written to Shapps demanding a meeting so as to hold him to account. He’d previously said he couldn’t be involved, and that the departmental management needed to resolve the dispute, but now the evidence strongly suggests his office has directly intervened to scupper a deal.
In Royal Parks, we have declared a formal dispute after the outsourced contractor which employers cleaners missed a deadline we’d set for them to agree our demands, centrally a commitment to no job cuts. We’re now in period with discussions with workers about what action to take. We’re working closely with the United Voices of the World (UVW) on this. I’ll meet with UVW reps and officers on 8 June to discuss the next steps in the campaign.
UVW initially organised the Royal Parks cleaners and has done excellent campaigning work, including organising a number of strikes. The workers remain members of UVW, but now that they are dual-carding in PCS, we are able to provide additional legal, financial, and organisational assistance, due to our greater resources.
Our consultative ballots in the Department for Work and Pensions have now concluded, returning a three-to-one majority in favour of industrial action around workplace safety. I have argued all along that we needed to move to statutory ballots as soon as possible, and that remains my view.
PCS is now facing two “fire and rehire” disputes. Homes England, a stand-along organisation under the remit of the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government, has tabled a proposal which puts on the table the possibility of dismissing its staff and re-engaging them on worse conditions. We’ll meet with them on 8 June and have made our position very clear. If their proposal is not fully withdrawn, we will immediately go into dispute and begin preparations for an industrial action ballot and wider political campaign.
Outsourced contractor Mitie has also said that it “reserves the right” to fire workers who do not agree to changes it wants to implement across its ten civil service contracts. If that threat is not withdrawn, we will take a similar approach there. I believe the union needs to respond to these threats with all means at our disposal, and have been arguing for that approach.
On 4 June, I spoke at a protest opposite the Chinese Embassy commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. PCS has taken a strong stance in support of independent labour movements in China and Hong Kong, as well as opposing China’s repression of the Uyghur people. At our national Annual General Meeting (AGM), which takes place online from 14 June, there’ll be a motion reaffirming that commitment. The fundamental issues are simple: the labour movement should be on the side of struggles for democracy and liberation, wherever in the world they take place.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity