Staying strong at the DVLA
PCS members at the DVLA in Swansea have stayed united and resolved with sustained strike action over several weeks since April, as they continue to stand up for Covid health and safety in their workplaces.
As PCS People went to press, members were taking part in a three-day walkout in early July, while the employer persisted in bringing hundreds of staff back on site as infection rates rose.
Their action has become a symbol of union members defending their rights during the pandemic crisis, winning support from trade unionists, media, and politicians, especially the six local Labour MPs.
DVLA’s Swansea sites have been among the worst workplaces for infections in the UK, with mass outbreaks and a woeful response from an employer who has insisted in mass attendance at work and failed to keep staff safe.
More than 30 days of all-member and targeted action have been held in the face of attempts to threaten and intimidate the PCS branch chair, and outrageous behaviour by senior management who in June reneged on an agreement negotiated with the union that could have ended the dispute. That deal was almost certainly pulled at the 11th hour by transport secretary Grant Shapps in an unprecedented move – a claim he has refused to answer.
Despite these despicable tactics, the well-supported strike is having an impact:
- Huge backlogs are building up at the DVLA, for example with nearly 250,000 pieces of post backed up in the Drivers Medical section.
- The delays are heaping pressure on Tory ministers; there have been desperate attempt to provide a service by outsourcing work members normally do.
- The dispute was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour MP Christina Rees.
- The Cabinet Office is raising questions with the Department for Transport about the way this dispute is being handled.
- Donations to the DVLA strike fund have exceeded £43,000 as the union vows to back the members with strike pay “all the way” while everything is done to bring the dispute to a satisfactory resolution (how to help – see p2).
- The branch has recruited more than 800 new members, now making it the biggest in PCS.
- DVLA activists are being asked to speak at events and rallies all over the UK.
In a message to DVLA members, PCS president Fran Heathcote said: “Keep going; I know this is tough. Nobody thought this would be resolved quickly and it has been a long haul, but stay strong, and stay united.”
DVLA’s decision to outsource some of the work normally done by the strikers is a breath-taking act of hypocrisy, given their insistence throughout the crisis that certain work can only be done on site.
In spite of the union’s demand to pause the return to work, rapid increases in positive Covid cases in Swansea Bay, rising positive cases on site and a pause to the easing of restrictions, the DVLA recently pressed on with its plans to bring 450 more staff in.
In a video message PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka also addressed the “victimisation, threats and intimidation” currently being faced by branch chair Sarah Evans.
“I’m pleased to say that your union is not going to put up with either management behaving this way in refusing to settle the dispute, or them doing nothing to protect one of their employees, our rep.”
He congratulated the strikers on their stance: “It’s a big well done because you have been taking part in some of the most important industrial action that we’ve had in PCS’s 20-year history.”
Mark said members were defending their basic rights to safety at work and could not give in to the employer’s tactics.
This article appears in PCS People issue 2, 2021.