What is going on at DVLA Swansea?

By Sarah Evans, PCS DVLA Swansea Branch Chair

Over the last 14 months, we have had 613 positive covid cases in the DVLA. We have had one death. These could have been avoided. Back in March last year, the DVLA worked with us to get numbers on site reduced to around 400 staff and non essential services scaled back to key workers only. This move was welcomed and supported by PCS. Then September came, and numbers onsite increased massively. We had the vulnerable staff coming back onsite, along with parents who has been off due to childcare, and that was also tied in to the usual spike of staff on site after the summer leave period.

We were notified of the 1st positive case on 7th September. Quite quickly that 1st case turned into the 2nd, the 10th and the numbers just kept increasing. By October we were meeting with the senior leaders of the DVLA and raising our concerns about the numbers on site. We were told that the numbers were fine, staff were to blame for the rise in cases. We didn’t accept that. We knew that there were too many people on site and that the only way to stop the cases rising was to reduce this number.

By the end of November the numbers were now in the hundreds. We had members in intensive care because they had become so ill. But still the DVLA would not admit or acknowledge that this was anything to do with them, this was all down to staff and their behaviour. When we started to see the cluster develop in the contact centre, we were again told that this is the fault of the staff there. They were typically younger and as such were all going drinking and catching it that way.

We were told that an increase a couple of weeks after Beaujolais day was to be accepted. During the first 2 weeks of December we saw over 60 positive cases in just over 2 weeks in the contact centre. Despite this, we were still being told that under no circumstances would they reduce the numbers, this was not to blame for the rise in cases.

It wasn’t long before the outbreak was declared, that onsite testing of all contact centre staff began. Despite this the DVLA still refused to move and take action. They would still not reduce the numbers on site despite us now pleading for this. They finally took some action, although this was some four days after the outbreak was declared, and decided to close their contact centre for the 4 days, it was meant to be open between Christmas and New year. It was the action that we had been asking for, but it was too little too late.

This is when we really had come to the end of the road of negotiations at a branch level and had to involve PCS at a national level.

We were dealing with an employer who had no interest in the safety of its staff. An employer whose leader had been onsite 6 times in 12 months, yet was telling staff that it was safe. A leader whose attendance on site was questioned by the select committee.

Throughout all our meetings, at every request to reduce numbers, we were always met with a list of what the DVLA had done to keep staff safe. How they had complied with all the recommendations made to them on inspections by EH, how they were ‘covid secure’ because they had the banners to support that claim.

Well I will put this to you all:

How can a Covid secure building see over 600 cases?

How can a Covid secure building see a member of staff lose their life from this awful virus?

How can a Covid secure building still be seeing cases, when the country is in a lockdown identical to what we saw 12 months ago, when there are now apparently all these safety measures in place?

The answer – they cant!

And this is the reason we were left with no option to declare us being in dispute with the Agency, and why we were forced to ballot our members.

A ballot that the Agency was pretty certain we would lose, and why wouldn’t they?

Over the last few years every ballot we have held over pay has not met the threshold. If people wont vote for more money, then why would they vote for this?

Why would the members working at home bother to vote? Well they voted.

They voted because they know that the DVLA cannot be trusted to keep their colleagues safe.

They voted because they hear the same stories as we do.

They voted for every staff member who has sat at their desk and cried because they were so scared.

But, most importantly, they voted because they care.

They know that they are fortunate to be able to work at home.

They know that they could be called back in at any time and that they would not want to work in a building that is not safe.

They voted despite knowing that if we called a strike, it would be the lowest paid amongst us that would lose pay.

This didn’t matter. Their safety matters. To me, to them, to us.

After the ballot result was declared, you would have expected the DfT senior leaders to ask to meet with us, but their ignorance was only demonstrated further.

It was us that had to reach out to them to ask them to enter intense talks with us.

It was pretty clear from a very early point, that we would not reach an agreement, that there is no acceptance that things have been handled incorrectly.

Even with 331 desks having to be taken out of use in Feb/March, because they were too close together and breaking social distancing, the blinkers were still on. So here we are today.

We had hundreds of members come out on strike. Members who have witnessed first hand the failures of the DVLA in keeping them safe. Members whose fears are so great they are willing to take a reduction in their pay to keep themselves safe.

We have just had a second week of strike action which saw even more members strike. But this isn’t the end.

We still have an employer who is refusing to move.

Despite both sets of strike action and notice served for a 3rd, they still drag their heels and if it was not for the efforts of PCS, they would not be holding the meetings to try and reach an agreement.

Due to incompetent hostile managers at the DVLA, staff have joined PCS, and joined the action in massive members, over 100 new members during one week alone.

PCS have made a commitment to pay members £40 a day in strike pay, and this has been processed quickly, leading to much praise from our members.

We also have a fighting fund to allow us to give a little extra support to those who need it the most. This has reached an incredible £38,000 and is growing.

Messages of support and solidarity are coming in from every part of the Trade Union movement and all areas of the country.

Whilst the DVLA may think they are big and strong, and can wait this out, they have underestimated the strength and passion of our members, and it really is a tale of David and Goliath.

All of your support and solidarity is welcome, in what is a crucial ballot for health and safety, and standing together, PCS is determined that it is one that we will win.

Newcastle Local DVLA solidarity meeting

On Thursday 6th May, the PCS Northern region held a solidarity rally for the DVLA strikers in Swansea. It was great to chair a meeting which gave an opportunity for our members and reps to hear from DVLA branch chair, Sarah Evans, ask questions about the dispute and the issues surrounding it, and to show their solidarity by sending messages of support.

Sarah spoke passionately about the issues leading up to the dispute and how the branch had strengthened and developed, with loads more reps and members getting involved, since the dispute began. It was a great little meeting. Our reps and members loved hearing from Sarah and learning more about the campaign, and Sarah enjoyed the opportunity to talk in detail about it all. A couple of reps messaged me afterwards to say they had learnt a lot from listening to Sarah and actually felt quite emotional about how the members were being treated there.

Sarah left ‘laden’ with messages of support, including one from our local Northern NEU branch, and after hearing from North East UCU rep, Jon Bryan, who joined the call to pass on his members’ best wishes, wishing PCS DVLA members every success in their campaign.

This was real solidarity in action and our Newcastle Local, who planned the event, agreed that virtual meetings give us a real opportunity to invite speakers from around the UK involved in live disputes, and allow us to share experiences and pass on solidarity greetings.

DVLA strike rally

Friday was the last day of the second wave of four days of strike action for PCS members at DVLA Swansea.

Early indications are that this week was even better supported than last time, with over 100 new PCS members joining to take part in the action just in the last week.

Sarah Evans, DVLA branch ably chaired the rally, which heard contributions from group president, Paul Williams, FBU General Secretary, Matt Wrack, Branch Secretary, Sofia Wickstead, Four MPs who had supported the campaign, including Lillian Greenwood who is a member of the Transport select committee and I was pleased to address the rally as the last speaker, on behalf of PCS.

The rally was upbeat and determined, with every speaker pledging onward support for a successful outcome.

Sarah was proud to report donations in excess of £38,000 had been made to the branch, including a £10,000 donation from the PCS NEC, the biggest donation we have ever made to a single dispute, and an indication of the absolute determination of PCS to win this dispute and support these members.

Sarah reported some hostility towards the branch had been shown this week, but that the support of activists across the movement, the public and their own members is what had strengthened their resolve.

Talks with the employer resume next week and a further members’ meeting is planned for next Thursday 13th May.

PCS members and reps have been fantastic throughout this campaign, further notice has been served for week commencing 17th May, and the pressure is now on management to resolve this dispute, protect our members’ safety and do the right thing.

Members are showing absolute determination to win this campaign and the Democracy Alliance led NEC has pledged to back them every step of the way.

Together we are stronger and United we will win. Solidarity to all DVLA strikers.

Fran Heathcote

Northern Region Chair & PCS President

Fran Heathcote is standing for re election as PCS President as part of the Democracy Alliance.

The NEC ballot closes on the 13th May so if you haven’t voted yet please post your ballot paper this weekend.

Want a say in who runs your Union? Here’s why you need to vote twice

By now you should have received your ballot papers in the post for the election of the PCS National Executive Committee (NEC). This is to determine who represents you at the highest level of the union. This will decide who makes the decisions on matters that affect all Civil Servants and who negotiates with Cabinet Office etc. on things like Civil Service Pensions, the Civil Service Compensation Scheme and pushing for Civil Service wide pay increases.

Equally important however is who represents you at a Group level. In the DWP, as in other groups in PCS, members will soon receive a second ballot paper by email wherever they have an email address registered with PCS. This ballot will decide who runs your Group Executive Committee (GEC). It is the GEC who talk to your Departmental management leadership on everything from Pay in the Group to Health and Safety at work, how your role in the Department operates, what the policies say which govern how you’re treated at work, what workloads there are and how many staff are needed to do the work.

Voting in both these ballots, the NEC ballot which has been posted to you, and the GEC ballot you should receive by email from 29 April, is vital to decide who acts on your behalf at both Group and National level. Why do the NEC ballot papers get posted even when PCS have your email contact details? This is because of the Anti-Trade Union laws in the UK. All statutory ballots (which the NEC election is counted as) must be conducted by postal ballot. PCS along with other Trade Unions want this practice to be changed to increase member engagement and to make it easier for members to have their say in who runs their Union, but until then the NEC ballot has to be done by post.

We encourage every single member to use their vote. PCS Left Unity in DWP, and alongside our allies the PCS Democrats as part of the Democracy Alliance at National Level, have been leading PCS’ campaigns on behalf of members, fighting for your Pay, Pensions, your safety at work throughout the Pandemic as well as before and since, along with a whole host of other issues which affect your daily life at work in the Civil Service or on outsourced Civil Service contracts.

Please use both your votes to elect a leadership who work day in day out for you, your colleagues and your family’s wellbeing. Please post your NEC ballot paper to arrive by no later than 13 May, and complete your electronic ballot paper for the GEC election by no later than 18 May to decide who runs your union.

Steven Swainston is standing as a Left Unity candidate for the PCS DWP GEC as Group Assistant Secretary and as a Democracy Alliance candidate for the PCS NEC.

Click on the images below for more information

Workers Memorial Day: Remember the Dead, Fight for the living

Workers Memorial Day is held every year on the 28th April to commemorate those who have been injured or died in the workplace.

This year is perhaps more poignant for those in DWP due to the terrible effects of Covid. At the start of the pandemic in the UK, sadly a number of workers from DWP offices died. My thoughts are with the families and friends that have lost loved ones, and the colleagues of those sadly passed away. We also have in our thoughts a number of people who caught Covid and are suffering long term effects and struggling to continue to work or are not yet back working, and will continue to fight to get the department to exempt Long Covid under our attendance policy.

Throughout the pandemic the Left Unity led GEC have negotiated to ensure measures are in place to make the offices as safe as possible and succeeded in getting almost 90% of staff working from home, while those who wanted to be in the workplace for personal reason could continue to do so. This ensured for a number of days that no offices were closed for a deep clean as there had been no suspected or confirmed cases in our sites.

This is not now the case. The Secretary of State has demanded DWP open offices further as the high street is now open and the DWP jumped to do her bidding. Unfortunately, we have had some local managers trying to outdo each other in getting more staff in regardless of whether it was safe to do so.  Since this idiotic decision we are once again getting daily closures due to cases.  We have remonstrated with senior management over this and despite obstacles being put in our way we are trying to ensure that the procedures put in place minimise the risks, though we know the best way to minimise the risk is to maximise those working from home.

So I urge you to take a couple of minutes on the 28th April to remember those killed or injured in the workplace…. and lets fight for the living. 

Carol Revell

Can is standing for the DWP GEC as part of the Left Unity slate. Click on the image below for more information.