Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic Driving Examiners, who are members of PCS, were subjected to delivering driving tests where social distancing could not be introduced within a car. It was only at the insistence of the Government with the two national lockdowns that Driving Examiners were finally sent home and driving tests were suspended. Even when this happened many of our Driving Examiner members volunteered to help deliver NHS staff to COVID centres, hospitals, or deliver medical equipment etc on a voluntary basis. Of course, our union also ensured those Examiners that were clinically extremely vulnerable were kept at home, given the lack of social distancing.
During the period when Tiering was introduced i.e. where COVID restrictions were put in place in different towns and regions, our members were still forced to carry on delivering tests.
As a result of the pandemic a backlog of some 400,000 driving tests have built up over 18 months. DVSA’s response at first, was to hire some 200 new Examiners, whose terms and conditions are far worse than the existing terms and conditions, they included Saturdays and Sundays with no real restrictions on how far they travel. Perhaps most significantly is a clause in that contract which allows them to be sacked when the backlog is cleared.
On top of this DVSA, Grant Shapps, and his Ministers have introduced changes to the HGV driving test, this included passing our work to the private sector, and introducing more HGV tests per day. All of this puts the health safety and wellbeing of our members at risk.
Their whole reason for this was apparently due to a shortage of HGV drivers, however driving tests are not the main reason for the shortage of HGV drivers. This is due to a number of other factors, Brexit, the change in delivery services during the pandemic with many HGV drivers swapping poor pay and conditions and delivering for Amazon etc, and a backlog in HGV training which is solely sat with the private sector. So, giving more work to the private sector to deliver more tests will add, not decrease the problems. In a significant and provocative move Shapps has now announced that Military Driving Examiners will also carry out HGV tests.
Above all DVSA and Government Ministers have continued with the same targets they had pre- COVID-19. As a result of this they have introduced a situation where they want Driving Examiners to work 8 car tests per day instead of 7 car tests. This has meant taking no notice of the stress already suffered by members and is attempting to increase their workload. PCS has argued hard and fast to stop this nonsense and to have a full health and wellbeing timing study conducted which takes account of all that our members do during their day, not just driving tests. This has been completely ignored and DVSA have taken forward their 8th test schedule. When doing this they have enforced changes to our part time and partially retired members employment contracts, making them work longer or taking no notice of their existing contractual arrangements. Road Safety is being completely ignored, and all of this is being introduced on top of announcing a pay freeze.
On that basis we have balloted all of our Driving Examiners (some 900 of them). Although, we did not ballot members over the HGV issues (as these were introduced after our ballot began), all Driving Examiners are employed as car Driving Examiners so our dispute will include those carrying out HGV tests.
Our demands are simple and realistic.
- That an eight-test schedule will not be introduced without the agreement of PCS
- That DVSA reach agreement with PCS on measures to ensure that the introduction of the Eight Test Schedule does not represent an unacceptable risk in relation to the health, safety, and wellbeing of our members, of candidates and of other road users
- That DVSA reach agreement with PCS on any changes to existing contractual terms and conditions of staff, established through custom and practice and / or explicit contractual terms, arising from the introduction of an Eight Test Schedule
Our ballot has now finished, and the result is a historic one for PCS.
With the members entitled to vote in the ballot, we have had an 82% turnout with 92% of our 1100 members voting for strike action, and around 96% voting for action short of strike. This shows the strength of feeling that now exists amongst Driving Examiners.
In true DVSA fashion they have continued to try and implement the 8th test schedule and therefore we have announced national strike action on the 18th/19th October with Regional strikes in further weeks following this.
There can be no doubt that the ballot result has shocked both Government Ministers and DVSA officials, we should not rule out further talks or action, as the aim of decreasing a backlog looks very much like it will do the opposite and increase.
For activists and members of this Union we should note that Left Unity activists have been at the forefront of this dispute.
Our message is simple – our members will not pay for the COVID pandemic which has affected all of us, we will not work longer and harder for less!!
Paul Williams DfT group President