Building-wide safety committees (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 27 July, 2021 - 5:35 Author: John Moloney
BEIS strike

The outsourced workers’ strike at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on 19-21 July was totally solid. I had the honour of addressing their picket line, and there was good support from elsewhere in the union and the wider movement too. It was especially good to see young activists from the UK Student Climate Network’s London chapter support the picket line, emphasising climate change as a class issue. BEIS is a key department in terms of climate strategy, so it’s especially important the links are made. The perspective now is to build towards further action in September when ministers return from their summer break.

Talks are ongoing with Just Ask, the outsourced contractor which employs cleaners in the Royal Parks. They’ve moved somewhat on guaranteed minimum hours and holiday pay, but not enough on the key issues of job cuts and parity with directly-employed staff, so the strike planned for 30 July will go ahead.

In the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) complex in Swansea, a huge backlog of work has built up due to the action we’ve taken. Our current ballot mandate runs until September, and we want to get the maximum use out of it. A section of the workforce, in a section called drivers medicals, will strike throughout the whole of August. We’ll then look to re-ballot the entire workforce for further action. That’ll be challenge, but the union has grown throughout the dispute and we’ve elected many new reps, so we’re starting from a higher level of organisation this time.

Our campaign to force Mitie to commit not to using fire and rehire tactics continues, though we have had a victory as they have backed off on changes to pay. I pushed strongly for us to respond to Mitie on a company-wide basis, rather than contract by contract, and that approach has paid off, as they’ve backed down from the imposition of new contracts. They haven’t, however, given a firm guarantee that they won’t use fire and rehire tactics at any point, so our fight will continue until they do.

I’m also continuing to push strongly for the creation of building-wide health and safety committees in workplaces used by multiple departments. There’s a clear logic to having a single committee for the whole building, rather than each department having its own committee. We’re starting to get some traction for that approach now, and some indications that the employer will recognise those committees. In London, where there are numerous sites of that type, we could look to set up an overarching structure that brings the reps from those committees together to discuss common issues, and creates an additional channel of accountability. It’s early days, but if structures like that were built up and strengthened, they could be a base for fighting for much more workers’ control over how safety is monitored and improved in civil service workplaces.

• John Moloney is Assistant General Secretary of the civil service workers' union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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