Within but without

I am the branch chair of the PCS Northern Ireland Revenue Branch and I work in the tax credit office in Dorchester House, Belfast.

I can definitely say that there hasn’t been an ordinary day for PCS representatives in benefits and credits here since the beginning of November 2016, when 249 ex-Concentrix employees were brought into HMRC under the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) regulations (or TUPE) and began working in tax credits compliance in Belfast.

The staff were delighted to secure their employment by moving to HMRC however, under the TUPE legislation, they remained on their Concentrix contracts and terms and conditions. This instantly created a two-tier workforce, since the Concentrix terms are a lot less favourable than those on HMRC contracts.

The situation escalated very quickly once HMRC acquiesced to the PCS demands to bring the Concentrix staff in to Benefits and Credits. This created a lot more work for local PCS representatives, GEC representatives and officials as there seemed to be endless questions about the different contracts. Of particular concern to our new staff was their hours of work, as the TUPE personnel were on set shifts and worked 40 hours per week but the remuneration received was a lot less than those on HMRC contracts working 37 hours. During this initial period I think I personally tortured our AGS Colette Smith, Martin Kelsey and Gayle Matthews (one of the dedicated FTOs) for assistance and advice.

The established employees in HMRC had their own concerns, including the fact that a significant number had to move floors and buildings to accommodate the TUPE staff. There were also personal issues along with some Health & Safety problems but by highlighting the issues we were able to resolve them by working with local management.

On an average day I deal with approximately seven or eight enquiries. The first is usually before 8am as this is the time the TUPE staff start work. The majority of enquiries are asking if PCS have commenced negotiations with management regarding harmonising the terms and what progress has been made on this front. I am also currently dealing with a number of members who have been overpaid salary and HMRC are trying to recover the overpayment however in a number of these cases it would appear that HR have incorrectly calculated the overpayments. The managers who transferred over are regularly seeking PCS assistance as they are struggling with administering some HMRC policies as they feel the TUPE staff are being unfairly treated especially in relation to managing attendance.

The TUPE staff regularly express the opinion that they are being treated like second class citizens by HMRC senior management. This is mainly because of the rates of pay they are receiving and is an issue I understand since it has prevented people from obtaining mortgages and is impacting on family life. The salary hasn’t decreased from what it was in Concentrix but it is less than HMRC pay so staff rightly feel badly treated.

Among the TUPE staff there remains a good level of support for PCS and an awareness that we are trying to ensure the harmonisation of terms however there is a frustration that the employer appears to be reluctant or unable to speed up this process.

As a union representative I have an extra reason to look forward to the harmonisation of terms, since it will mean that when a member comes seeking union advice or assistance I will not have to be concerned with which contract applies.

Editor's note: Since this article was written, HMRC has agreed to start improve the pay, terms and conditions of former Concentrix staff who transferred to HMRC's benefits and credits in late 2016. You can find out more about this on the group's Latest News page.

Paul Wolfe

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