PCS activists are working hard to get the vote out in the union’s statutory pay ballot, between now and the last day for posting ballot papers on 19 July.
Two reps have told Activate what they’re doing in their branches to get organised so they can maximise the union’s visibility at work and exceed the required minimum turnout of 50%.
Is ballot organisation a piece of cake?
Regular mapping of their membership has stood Defra Northern branch in good stead for getting organised with their pay ballot action plan.
With about 400 members spread over 20 departments and a large geographical area – from Inverness down to Sheffield – they split the workload among 17 reps.
Branch organiser Chris Dodds, who won the individual organising award at this year’s PCS national conference, explains what they are doing to keep up the momentum during the pay ballot, including new ideas such as chatting to members during ‘cake days’.
“Every January/February we do a big mapping exercise. We look at the Commix list and cross-reference it with intranets and staff directories. It’s quite a large exercise but from that we can gather where our members are and our potential members are, then we can prioritise those areas.
It’s well worth doing because we have a much better understanding of where we can focus our resources.
Off the back of this, during this ballot period we have split the Commix list up and sent it around the reps so they each have their own members to look after during this period.
This week we have been emailing a lot of members to check if they have got their ballot papers, and if they have voted, and pointing them to the ‘I VOTED’ page on the PCS website.
If they haven’t got a ballot paper the rep will get in touch again and make sure they have the instructions for ordering a replacement.
We have organised leafleting and giving out membership forms at the larger departments in Newcastle and York, and we hope to organise the same in Leeds.
Also we are trying something new with coffee and cake days – we book meeting rooms at the larger sites and invite members to come and discuss any problems they might be having or questions they have. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about the ballot.
We also have a countdown on noticeboards in some sites, which we update every day. It doesn’t mention the ballot, it will just say ‘XX days to go’ and then we leave it open for people to come and talk to us if they want to know what it’s about. It doesn’t specifically say what it’s about, which hopefully gets people talking and also gets around management questioning whether we should be talking about ballots at work.
‘Aiming for 75% turnout’
Something else we are trying is our new branch Facebook page, which we are trying to update regularly with events like leafleting and the payday protest.
We are making sure communications go out to members every Monday.
Our target is that by the end of June we want everyone to have been contacted by their rep to say ‘have you got a ballot paper and have you voted’? It will either by email or chatting to members at tea points or whatever.
In the consultative ballot on pay we got more than a 50% turnout and this time we are pushing for more. I would be very disappointed if we don’t get 75%. If everyone in our Newcastle office voted we would already have more than 50%. We just want to be proud of ourselves and say we have got the support, we have good people in our Northern branch (and it is their branch) who are fighting for what they need.
It’s a fine line – we aim to do something at least once or twice a week, while trying not to bombard members with too much. We want to get the balance right.
‘In our branch, everyone is an organiser’
Organising a massive branch is a challenge at the best of times and a methodical approach becomes even more crucial at times like this.
DWP Lancashire branch, which has 19 offices on its large patch, has been getting to grips with the changing landscape in recent years – such as loss of reps, facility time and check-off – and that groundwork is helping them stay on top of what needs to be done during the ballot.
Branch chair and GEC member Jenny Pollard explains some of their methods, including making the union as “visible” as possible, and producing a quick video clip for social media to show members how easy it is to vote.
Branch chair and GEC member Jenny Pollard explains some of their methods:
Our sites range from three staff to more than 400, but every member is important to our branch.
With the large geographical area we cover, it became apparent that our branch organiser simply couldn’t be spread across all areas and we adopted the principle “everyone is an organiser”.
We held a workshop within our BEC and came up with new ways of organising, which include:
- Allocating responsibility for every office to at least one rep
They visit the site on a regular basis, and advise members of drop-in surgeries etc. They have responsibility for organising members meetings, updating noticeboards and obtaining feedback about how things are going (asking for the positive too, to see if their processes can help offices where things aren’t going so well). We take this opportunity to hold any information sessions and leaflet, where necessary, to increase visibility.
- Creating a central branch inbox for all our communications
The address is listed in the department’s global address list to make it easier for members to contact the branch.
- Setting up a Facebook page
Used to help share information and update members on wider issues outside of DWP.
- Rotating the venue of the BEC in order to increase our visibility.
Pay ballot tactics
During the consultative ballot on pay in 2017, we communicated with members via email and Facebook but, importantly, by leafleting face-to-face in the mornings and at lunchtimes.
Being visible with leaflets, petitions, stickers etc really gets people talking, even if it’s just 15-minute sessions at various times of day – every little helps.
For this current ballot, we have gone back to all reps with allocated responsibility for an office, provided updated membership lists, details of turnout levels in the consultative ballot, and literature, and asked them to leaflet and talk to every member about the importance of the ballot, then check them off the list following discussion.
We are updating our Facebook page and our organiser has created a quick video clip about how easy it is to use their vote! We have done payday protest pictures before, but this is the first time we have made video clips.
We also have reps who are offering to assist with phone-banking in regional offices.
We are really proud of our branch members and reps and find the grapevine plays a huge part in our success, as people share their positive experiences with their colleagues.
This has helped strengthen our branch and in the last 6-12 months, we have managed to recruit more members than we have had leavers.