Union power can win agreements to protect jobs, health and safety

18 Dec 2019

Following a successful PCS campaign against privatisation in 2016, HM Land Registry (HMLR) has remained in the civil service and will assist the government with its housing strategy. HMLR has since put in place a business strategy to operate this work and to modernise the organisation. PCS LR group vice president Dave Lunn explains how the union has developed meaningful agreements and practices as a result.

Workplace changes understandably worry members and reps alike. But PCS has negotiated a formal agreement following our successful anti privatisation campaign and high membership density levels.

We are guaranteed proper consultation on any proposed changes affecting members and crucially, assurances around jobs, offices, digital changes and operational issues.

We benefit from improved consultation and information sharing which means we are able to influence not only how proposed changes are taken forward, but also whether they should happen at all.

What this highlights is the importance of lead group negotiators being reps who understand the day job and who are present in the workplace. This has enabled us to make the right technical and practical arguments to support our representations.

This excellent level of engagement has been particularly helpful around health and safety (H&S), with real progress being made. Regular consultation on bread and butter H&S issues has enabled group H&S leads Adam Willis, Christine Clarke and Gary Parsons to secure material changes on dealing with stress in the workplace and supporting members with mental health and neuro diverse conditions.

The first practical change we saw was the introduction of mental health first aiders (MHFA) in every workplace. Whilst they have not been universally welcomed in other areas of the civil service, they are a valuable resource for our members in HMLR and generally seen as a positive thing.

However we do recognise that these initiatives pushes the responsibility for finding solutions back onto individuals rather than the employer, instead of trying to prevent issues from arising in the first place.

That’s why alongside supporting the introduction of MHFA’s, we have secured agreement for a change of culture, moving away from the previous control and command approach and towards a more supportive and inclusive workplace.

In addition, the employer has agreed to a major rewrite of all our key policies including sickness absence management, performance management and disciplinary policies with the full involvement of PCS. All the HR motions passed at our group conference in May are central to these discussions, showing we are reflecting the will of our members and respecting conference decisions.

With PCS influence, the emphasis of all these policies is to move away from current punitive wording to more supportive language. This allows our members to be considered as individuals rather than generic units of labour. The wording reflects the need for managers to support members with mental health and neuro diverse conditions. Specific manager training to support the cultural change is also in the pipeline.

In recognition our members are all unique with different levels of skill and experience, we have strengthened existing agreements on stress at work to ensure there is no individual output monitoring and no individual targets.

Under this new culture, the core ethos is managers must support individuals to make their maximum personal contribution to the organisation whilst recognising this will vary from individual to individual. We hope this will lead to a healthier and safer environment for everyone. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating. PCS are prepared to challenge any problems that may arise if this doesn’t pan out as agreed.

Departmentally, we meet with HMLR management every two weeks on an informal basis outside the Whitley structure. This has proven beneficial as we are able to be involved collaboratively in resolving H&S matters as opposed to previously when issues were built up over weeks and months without any positive work or issues resolved.

We also work with departmental H&S auditors on employee relations at a local level. This approach to consultation is embedded in our local offices as well as at departmental level, with regular H&S Whitley meetings taking place with local management.

Our offices have active building user forums and sustainability committees where PCS H&S and green reps participate. We have a say in various initiatives and issues affecting our offices such as building maintenance, office moves, reducing waste, recycling, energy saving and green purchasing. Where appropriate more formal consultation also takes place.

We’ve come a long way from the dark days of 2016 when we were not only facing privatisation, but the prospect of office closures and job cuts. Since then the organisation has taken on well over 1,000 new staff, providing much needed quality employment opportunities in all our office locations.

None of this has happened by accident. I cannot understate the importance our campaigning, organising and bargaining work is to achieving everything I’ve mentioned above.

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