DVLA votes to strike over safety

As comrades may now know our members in DVLA have voted for strike action with 71.6% voting in favour, on a 50.3% turnout.

You may think that is a close result regarding the threshold we have to reach, and it was, but the result is nothing short of incredible and an absolute credit to the way PCS have worked at every level.

Firstly, up until January this year, the DVLA Branch Executive remained unconvinced that a ballot should be held. That was for a number of reasons not least the number of staff working from home. That all changed when the CEO appeared before the Transport Select Committee and was rightly subjected to a detailed grilling (with information supplied by PCS) about the situation at DVLA where an outbreak of COVID in December had seem around 560 positive cases – the biggest office outbreak ever seen in an office across any of our nations. In addition DVLA had over 2,000 working on their sites.

Following this the PCS stepped up at every level. Our General Secretary Mark Serwotka, along with Fran Heathcote National President, and Sarah Evans the Branch Chair were nothing short of magnificent in agreeing to hold online members meetings to gauge the opinion of members. We had already held meetings at national level with the DfT and DVLA to no avail, so we reported back on these at those meetings.

The eventual outcome of these meetings was a decision to hold a membership ballot. We all knew that this would be no mean feat, COVID rates were dropping, and the Government had declared their Roadmap, suggesting COVID was over, along with DVLA/DfT management claiming that COVID cases were dropping, and the workplaces in DVLA were COVID secure.

However, given this there are though some real lessons and facts that we must use in future ballots whether they be national or more localised.

  1. There were over 2,000 staff working from home, so the ballot had to be aimed at solidarity as well, whilst also reminding our members that they too might be called back into work at any time.
  2. The PCS Organising Team were central to ensuring that phone banking was arranged, this included training sessions for the Branch reps and activists who had volunteered to help ring around. These were held in the evening – showing the commitment of our advocates.
  3. Advocates played a crucial role in not only phone banking, but also a number of them were in the workplace and were able to discuss and persuade members who were working to vote as well.
  4. The Branch Chair and Organiser were pivotal in making sure messages went out on their Facebook page. The PCS Facebook membership increased substantially throughout the last few months. On every occasion DVLA or DfT put something out, they answered this on Facebook. Where members reported the issues of social distancing etc., they wrote to management and pointed out on Facebook those breaches. Every message of support they received was put on their Facebook. The DVLA Facebook now has around 1700 members on it.
  5. The Full Time Officer for DVLA made sure they were supporting and advising throughout, both before and during the ballot. A fantastic effort in the circumstances.
  6. The negotiating team kept in constant touch with each other, we set up a WhatsApp Group which included Mark, Fran, and ourselves. This was worth its weight in Gold in keeping up to date with each other.
  7. DVLA branch held 3 AGM’s during the ballot on one day. These were carefully planned with the Organising team. The Branch Chair Sarah was fantastic in making sure she was prepared for those who were agitating against the ballot and accusing PCS of having no case. Fran as National President followed this up by attending each of the AGM’s detailing how we had prioritised, and have dealt with the pandemic, as well as well as detailing our other national issues.
  8. The GEC has supported and advised on every occasion we have had to.
  9. The ballot and our orgainising for it were almost exclusively online with no major face to face meetings.

What has been clear is that this has been a monumental effort at every level of the Union. The odds were stacked against us, we had over 2,000 staff at home already, and the full state machine arguing that we had no case.

The result has shocked the DVLA and DfT, but it has also shocked the Cabinet Office and no doubt Minister’s. This ballot was not just for strike action but for all-out strike action.

Our job now is to make sure that we do not lose momentum, we have recruited new members to the union, we have 7 new reps on the Branch committee, we have a Branch that management will now fear and respect, and we have renewed enthusiasm for PCS. We also have more new advocates who have put themselves forward to help and become active.

I think we are all extremely proud of how we have worked. For those opponents who have criticised us during this, they need only look at the result but also how as a union we have worked together at every level. We must expect to do this again, each and every time we hold a ballot, and not least if we agree a national ballot on pay when the time is right.

The difficult job starts again because if there is no movement from the employer then strike action will take place. The tactics and strategy of that will again be crucial but I can say without any doubt that we will use the lessons of the ballot and how we orgainised to deliver on action to win, if and when that is needed.

We need our members at home and only to return to the workplace when it is safe to do so and our job is to ensure that happens.

Paul Williams

Paul is standing for re election to the NEC as part of the Democracy Alliance. Click the image for more information.