Members of Public and Commercial Services union are to stage a four-day strike at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to protest over coronavirus-related safety concerns.
The PCS yesterday announced the move, which will begin on 6 April, after a ballot earlier this month found 71.6% of members were in favour of strike action. Turnout was 50.3%, just over the simple majority of members now required for strike action to be legitimate.
PCS has been fiercely critical of DVLA’s requirement for around 2,000 staff work on-site at its Swansea campus during the current lockdown, roughly one-third of the organisation’s workforce. It says that with around 600 cases of coronavirus reported among staff since September, DVLA has notched up the highest number of cases of any UK workplace. PCS say a much lower number of staff were required to be physically present in last year’s first pandemic lockdown.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said that taking strike action was a “last resort” and that the union would engage in intensive talks with DVLA management in the coming days – including presenting proposals to ensure safety at the campus in the coming months and years.
“DVLA management need to stop playing fast and loose with the safety of their own workers because the stakes are just too high,” he said.
“That PCS members are prepared to take unprecedented strike action shows just how badly DVLA management have failed in their responsibility to keep staff safe.
“Taking strike action is a last resort but if management continues to so flagrantly disregard workers’ safety, we will be left with no other choice.”
In January, DVLA chief executive Julie Lennard told members of parliament’s Transport Select Committee the spike in Covid-19 cases seen among staff since September was a reflection of what was happening in the community, rather than a reflection of on-site safety issues.
She said reports that staff were being told by managers to come into work if they had coronavirus symptoms, or to ignore track-and-trace advice altogether, were not borne out by the agency’s own statistics.
A DVLA spokesperson said the agency had followed and implemented Welsh government guidance “at every single point throughout the pandemic” as it worked to deliver essential services.
“As a result of the wide range of safety measures we have in place, there are currently only 11 members of staff out of our workforce of 6,000 currently isolating following a positive test. These include staff working at home,” they said.
“We will continue discussions with the PCS, and we hope they will consider the detrimental impact industrial action is likely to have on motorists as restrictions start to ease.”
The DVLA spokesperson said the only people working on-site in Swansea were operational staff whose jobs could not be done remotely.
Chief exec Lennard told MPs in January that DVLA received around 60,000 items of mail a day that required processing.