14 September 2021

Defending health and safety: our most important right at work

Fran blogs about her speech to TUC Congress on our DVLA dispute, in support of a motion on Covid safety and recovery.

Our dispute at the DVLA is all about Covid, and about the government and employer's total failure to protect staff.

Our 3,500 members at DVLA are grateful for the support they have received from other members and branches in PCS, and from the wider trade union movement. They have received messages of support from across the UK, and donations of more than £47,000. These gestures make all the difference; this kind of support shows our movement at its best.

There have been so many positives: over 500 new members, more women, not just active, but leading the campaign. They’re active, because it is the union they trust with their safety, not the employer.

There have now been over 788 Covid cases at DVLA and tragically, one worker has died. PCS believes he caught Covid at work, a workplace he should never have been forced into.

And the response from the employer? A total unwillingness to do what other civil service departments have done, act fast and get more staff working safely from home.

DWP and HMRC staff worked from home, paying both benefits and furlough payments. But at the DVLA you were told to go in, because apparently your driving license is more sensitive than your personal financial and medical records? I don't think so!  Yet this was the astonishing claim repeatedly argued by the DVLA, including to the Transport Select Committee.

Even when DVLA commissioned a Deloitte study, offering ways that the work could be done off-site, the CEO, Julie Lennard, refused to implement it, using every trick to avoid sharing the details with PCS, or with MPs. Her performance at both select committees was woeful. Even the Conservative chair of the select committee accused her of ‘misleading the committee’. The same Huw Merriman openly told the transport minister, that the industrial action at DVLA was 'on ministers’. They had intervened to stop an agreement being reached to end the strike, not just once, but twice.

And why have they objected to both of these agreements? Because they don’t want to be seen to ‘reward industrial action’.

Meanwhile Grant Shapps refuses to meet us, berating the strike action, and the strikers. This week in Parliament he described the strike as “pointless”. Of course it’s ‘pointless’ to him, he doesn’t have to go into a workplace fearing Covid, getting ill, suffering long term complications, or in one case, paying the ultimate price.

  • It isn’t pointless to the members there who believe that it's only striking that’s kept them safe
  • It isn't pointless to the staff who fear another terrifying autumn of rising cases
  • It isn’t pointless for those members to keep fighting against a repeat of the mismanagement and mishandling of Covid, to speak out against an employer hellbent on sleepwalking into another disaster.

It is no surprise that despite all those weeks applauding key workers on doorsteps whilst the cameras rolled, the government is failing to do right by its own employees.

DVLA is a clear example of where the employer is getting it wrong, and the union is getting it right.

Protecting health and safety is the most basic right we are owed at work. PCS defends the right to a safe workplace for all.