19 July 2021

We’ll be behind our DVLA strikers all the way

The coronavirus pandemic has exposed how workers’ safety is taken for granted and nowhere has this been more apparent than in our critical dispute with the DVLA. The disgraceful behaviour and tactics from DVLA management and government ministers have surprised even me, and that’s why this is now one of the most important disputes in our union’s history.

Firstly, this dispute is about one of the most basic and fundamental rights: the right to be safe at work. In what is a clear indication of DVLA’s abject failure to keep their own workers safe, their head office in Swansea was home to the worst workplace outbreak in the UK. We heard reports of workers being told to turn off their track and trace app and, despite the huge outbreak, the employer insisted on going ahead with reckless plans to bring thousands of workers back on site.

Our brilliant members have been on strike since April and three months of all-member and targeted action is having an impact. There are now significant backlogs, with over one million pieces of post unopened. These delays are now building pressure and ministers have been forced to use private companies to bring in workers to carry out the work normally done by our members. This is a desperate attempt to maintain normal levels of service and is a waste of money that should instead be used to bring the dispute to an end.

Even though DVLA management and government ministers have sought to prolong the dispute, until very recently we were in a position to secure a just settlement for our members. Our negotiating team had been holding talks and an agreement was in place. Astonishingly, this was pulled at the eleventh hour, almost certainly at the request of transport secretary Grant Shapps.

To make matters worse, Grant Shapps himself is too cowardly to admit or explain why he did it. This is completely unprecedented. Agreements negotiated in good faith shouldn’t be vetoed by government ministers without justification or explanation. There’s too much at stake for this to happen and it’s just unacceptable. It’s clear that the appalling actions from those at the highest levels of government have backfired; our members are now more determined than ever to succeed.

I’ve seen this determination first hand and I want to give a special mention to our outstanding DVLA branch chair, Sarah Evans. Sarah has worked tirelessly in extremely challenging circumstances to mobilise and energise members during this dispute. This has all been done not just in the context of a pandemic, but also while being subjected to horrific online abuse. To their shame, DVLA management has refused to condemn the abuse and have totally neglected their duty of care to one of their own workers. Sarah is a shining example of what PCS is all about and the treatment of her by online bullies and her own employer is scandalous.

This dispute will continue and we must keep up the pressure. Given everything our members in DVLA have gone through, PCS will be behind them all the way.

This article appears in PCS People issue 2, 2021.