5 July 2021

DVLA women fighting for safety and flexibility

PCS DVLA Branch chair Sarah spoke to the Women Chainmakers' Festival on Saturday (3 July) and explains how the Covid safety dispute has had a positive effect for her branch, the union movement and for the role of women

Never did it think I would still be writing about our dispute in present terms because I thought after a week or 2 of strike action we would have reached an agreement and things would be back to some kind of normal. So the fact that we are still in the middle of our dispute is both disappointing and inspiring.

It is disappointing that our employer has not listened to our safety concerns, but it is incredibly inspiring to see what this dispute has done not just for our branch or even PCS, but the entire union movement. I have never seen such a show of support. Our members at the DVLA have come together as one and remaining as strong in their support as they were on day 1.

We had to ballot all our members over a situation that was only affecting two thirds of them. We have members who are working from home and who will remain there for the foreseeable and we had to rely on these members to stand up and support their colleagues who were being forced to go into an unsafe building every day and sit less than 2 metres apart. And stand up in support of them they did.

We are still calling members out on strike and despite all of the scare tactics used by the DVLA our members still trust in us and come out on strike in force. Truly united as one.

Over the last few months we have also seen an incredible growth in our membership. We have become the biggest branch within PCS and had a week where we saw over 100 new members join. We have more reps than ever before, an incredible group of advocates who have truly gone over and above during this dispute and continue to do so with the same fire as they have shown from the first day of action.

We see strike action that gets stronger by the day and messages of support are still flooding in. Our fighting fund is receiving donations not just from other branches and unions but from individual members. This is no longer a dispute between our branch and the DVLA, this is dispute of an entire union movement against this Tory government. And a dispute that must continue until we win.

Heart-breaking stories

The DVLA is predominantly a female-heavy workplace. And there is no denying that as women we have to consider things slightly differently to most men. We will primarily be the care givers, not just of our children but of our family members, too. I have heard heart-breaking stories from members who due to being forced into the office have had to make the incredibly hard decision to not see their vulnerable or elderly relatives because they are so scared they will take Covid home to them. We have had members of staff forced to take unpaid leave to ensure they keep their families safe.

The decisions made by the DVLA are having the biggest impact on the lower grades within the agency, the AAs and AOs and these are the largest group of part-time workers. Our dispute is highlighting the greater degree of discrimination faced by women, and people who require flexible working arrangements.

What’s even more disappointing is the dogged reluctance of DVLA management to recognise this clear disadvantaging of staff. I have dealt with personal cases recently of women who are having their pay stopped having contracted Covid at work and suffering the impact of Long Covid, which is more prevalent among women.  I have also seen management grant and then rescind paid special leave to a woman who needs to be present at home to care for her sick daughter. Though her job can be done from home, the DVLA is forcing her to come into work on site regardless of her home situation, or face the disciplinary proceedings. The women in my branch are suffering from the the impact of Covid on their family and increased caring responsibilities, while their employer offers them no flexibility to deal with this unprecedented challenge.

Hearing from so many inspiring female speakers at the Chainmakers' Festival just goes to show that women can, do and will continue to do great things. We will continue to fight this campaign with the DVLA and continue to make the workplace a better, safer and fair for everyone, regardless of how long that takes.

DVLA members are continuing their strike action with walkouts today, Wednesday and Friday.