22 July 2021

Private sector forum

The PSMA held its first biannual Private Sector Members Forum in June. We look back at the success of the forum and feedback received by those who attended.

The PCS Private Sector Members’ Association (PSMA) held its first biannual forum recently on 23 June. This was the first since the re-organisation in PCS, replacing the former commercial sector association with a single body that every private sector worker in PCS can be part of.

Due to ongoing restrictions due to Covid-19, the forum was held online, but this did not dampen the enthusiasm of the delegates who were representing their branches from both the private and public sectors of the union.

The forum was opened by PSMA President Kenny McKay, followed by the union’s assistant general secretary, John Moloney. Several hot topics were covered throughout the day, including organising private sector workers, health and well-being: unions’ response to issues highlighted during lockdown, fire and rehire, and outsourced workers.

During the morning session, Shelly Asquith, the TUC’s health and safety policy officer, spoke in detail about health and well-being, and specifically unions’ response to issues highlighted during lockdown. The session and subsequent Q&A provided attendees with a lot of information.

Over the coming months, reps are not only going to have to deal with a return to the workplace, but also be there to support our members with wider issues such as the long-term effects of long COVID, workplace testing and even social isolation.

Steve Swainson, PCS DWP Group Assistant Secretary and NEC member spoke about organising members in the private sector. Steve was also attending the forum on behalf of his group, DWP. The forum was a great opportunity to hear about the issues and concerns that affect the members working outside the civil service, something which hasn’t always got as much attention as it deserves in the past.


At the meeting it was great to hear from the other delegates about what is being done in other parts of the union to safeguard the futures and progress the interests of members working in areas such as outsourced contracts and the agreement which have been made in areas such as Covid-related absences as well as hearting about some of the campaigns which have affected these workers.


At the meeting I was able to update the other attendees on the work we are doing in DWP for PCS members working on outsourced DWP contracts including the setting up of a sub-committee of the GEC on issues relating to private sector members in our group, agreements made with DWP via the departmental trade union side to ensure sick pay from day one of any coronavirus related absence, the transfer of BPDTS staff who provide some of the digital functions in DWP back into the civil service and agreements regarding and the encouragement to branches to integrate and recruit members working on outsourced contracts to PCS to improve organisation and involvement.


It was also great to hear about the work being undertaken alongside other unions and the Labour party to end the appalling “fire and re-hire” practices which enable the deteriation of terms and conditions. Hearing from Rebecca Long-Bailey on this subject alongside an activist from another trade union on the work being done helped to ensure that our members in PCS in the private sector are not alone and that we have solidarity and support when we need to fight for our members’ rights at work.


The forum reinforced my confidence in the work we can do together to continue to fight for the best for our members working on private sector contracts throughout PCS.


In the afternoon, Sharon Leslie, PCS Industrial Officer, spoke about outsourced workers:

“Our aim is to make all our workplaces PCS organised workplaces. No matter if you are a civil servant or an outsourced worker, the union for you is PCS.

“Outsourcing of cleaners and security guards since the late 1980s has not only created a race to the bottom. It has created segregated workplaces, where outsourced facilities management (FM) staff are predominately black and migrant workers employed on statutory minimum employment terms and directly employed public sector workers receive much better terms and conditions.

“Organising FM workers is not only the morally right thing to do, it makes industrial sense. If we can coordinate action between our public and private sector members, we are much stronger and likely to achieve good outcomes for all members.

“Civil service reps have a role to play by:

  • Making FM issues part of your bargaining agenda.
  • Raising the demand for work to be brought in-house.
  • Ensuring your organising plans include FM members.
  • Using the PCS protocol on joint public/private sector working.

“We must rebuild working class solidarity between public and private sector workers in each of our workplaces and effect a culture change within PCS.”

Feedback from the forum

Several reps were unfortunately unable to attend the forum for various reasons. The forum has received positive feedback from those who were there.

“For members working in the private sector the reorganisation of the commercial sector into the private sector members’ association is important to the future of the union structure. Members in the civil service groups also have a role to play. The union has agreed protocols for these groups who have private sector members attached to these. It is important for the union to build and improve these links.” Kenny McKay (Atos Group and outgoing PSMA President)

“This was my first attendance for this meeting, and I was impressed. In particular the conversation with the TUC Health and Safety person Shelly Asquith who spoke very well and with authority.

The issues we face in the workplace, especially now, are immense and the more we can hear from other people about how they are getting on, and getting tips is essential. Both Dave Roberts and Rebecca Long-Bailey were very good indeed and adds weight to the conversation.

The broader conversation was a little lost on me as heard at length about government facilities workers who are having a bad time. It was heartening to hear that we are trying to recruit them into the family so we can help them. I work in the private sector with CHDA and of course we go from contract to contract, but we are slowly getting more interaction with our DWP counterparts. On a training course I met other reps from other government branches, and it was mutually advantageous. The whole meeting went very well considering it was the first zoom call. There was a huge amount of union rep experience on the call and these meetings can only help less experienced ones. Look forward to the next one.” Keith Robins CHDA Maximus, branch chair


“I found the issues discussed very relevant and real, it was great listing and discussing the many success stories from reps working in different sectors thought out the country, I highly recommend for others to get involved and increase their knowledge and contacts.” Richard Barkway-Smith (HMRC Network Services)

“I was very encouraged by the new PSMA forum although meeting in person is always preferred, I thought technology brought us together seamlessly. The structure of the forum was very clear and easy to follow. The content relevant and the transfer of chair from Kenny to Adrian went smoothly. The forum itself was relevant to my area of the private sector, Atos. I particularly enjoyed the insight into the struggles of the support staff within PCS.  

“The speakers on the fire and rehire brought home what we as private sector workers will need to face up to in near future unless legislation can be passed to prevent it happening. The main reason I enjoyed the PSMA was the lack of infighting that can happen at national conference. None of the speakers had an agenda, we were all united in wanting what is best for private sector members. Kenny has been an excellent president and I wish him all the best in his retirement.” John Bottoms (Secretary Atos Durham)

“The forum was a great meeting despite being held online with the obvious limitations. The guest speakers were excellent and the contributions on fire and rehire were informative and show the contempt private employers can have for their workers when the driver is profit. There were also many well thought out questions from the floor and I have only heard positive feedback from everyone I have had contact with. Hopefully the next one has a chance of being face to face and I am looking forward to meeting at some point in the future to meeting everyone in person.” Alistair Maxwell (President Atos Group and chair Atos Glasgow)

“For this year’s PSMA Forum SSCL had 4 PCS reps present: Harold Good, Emma O’Connell, Ross Howard, and Laura Gilfillan. This Forum being online was very different from the past ones held later in the year, in Liverpool at the Liver Hotel. Although yes, it’s great to get face-to-face with fellow PCS reps and make good contacts and swap experiences of being a rep, this was an online Forum that allowed a few individuals to attend that wouldn’t have been able to travel on the day.

All four of the SSCL PCS reps found the forum very useful and informative. In particular the “Organising private sector workers” by Steve Swainston (DWP) and Laura Bee (PCS) was good to discuss the differences between the civil service and private sector, but also it was good to see and hear about the positive links being organised throughout the various areas. Also, the “Health and well-being” session from Shelly Asquith about “Covid-19, health and safety at work” was found to be informative and Emma O’Connell was able to raise and discuss the issue of hot desking.

Finally, it was great to see under the “Fire and rehire” subject presented by Dave Roberts (Unite regional officer), on the working together between PCS and Unite with a fellow union official from another organisation, but it was also good to hear from an MP with Rebecca Log-Bailey (Labour MP) providing her take on the issue and what is happening at Westminster. Overall, all the SSCL Reps that attended enjoyed the forum and hoped that they might be able to attend again, whether face-to-face or online. Hopefully, once we can go back to face-to-face Forums an online option will also be provided. Keep up the great work.” PCS PSMA Forum SSCL Feedback