Eight out of ten staff at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency's Swansea campus have safety fears about their workplace, according to a survey following hundreds of coronavirus cases and the death of a colleague.
PCS the civil service’s biggest union, said its poll found 86% of DVLA staff who are members do not think their workplace is a “safe environment with suitable cleaning arrangements”. It said 88% indicated they are prepared to take strike action if there is a further deterioration that poses an imminent danger to their health and safety.
Around one-third of DVLA’s 6,200 staff are currently being asked to continue working in an office – after the agency introduced new restrictions to prevent the spread of coronavirus, as well as adding a new site. PCS did not give a figure for the number of respondents to its survey, or indicate whether responses came only from the roughly 2,000 staff still required to work on-site.
DVLA accepts that the campus has recorded more than 500 coronavirus cases since the start of September. But chief executive Julie Lennard told an emergency session of parliament’s Transport Select Committee last week that the infection figures "very much reflect what’s happening in the local community" and were not the result of failings at the agency.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka told a virtual meeting of union members who work for DVLA at Swansea that the agency's management had agreed to negotiations about the number of staff required to continue on-site operations.
“Our survey results are a serious indictment of ministers and senior DVLA management, who through their callous disregard for staff have made people unsafe and afraid to publicly speak out,” Serwotka said.
“We are clear that if there is not a dramatic reduction in staff numbers, from over 2,000 that there are now to a few hundred, as was the case in the first lockdown, then we will take the action necessary as a union to keep people safe.”
Serwotka said only 250 staff had been required to go into work during the first Covid lockdown last year.
At Wednesday’s transport committee session, Lennard told MPs that although DVLA is a digital organisation, it receives around 60,000 items of mail every day that need to be dealt with by on-site staff.
She disputed comments attributed to anonymous DVLA employees who said they had been told to come into work even when they had coronavirus symptoms or had been asked to turn off the NHS tracing app on their phones.
Lennard also questioned the claim attributed to one staff member that they had self-isolated six times since the onset of the pandemic. She told MPs the agency was aware of one staff member who had self isolated five times, 14 people who had isolated four times, 40 who had isolated three times, and 176 who had isolated twice.
PCS is demanding a full investigation into the death of a DVLA staff member who recently died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19, one of the government's metrics for coronavirus fatalities.
A DVLA spokesperson said the agency was “greatly saddened” by the death of a valued colleague.
“Our thoughts go out to his family and all those who were close to him,” they said.
The spokesperson said DVLA’s focus throughout the pandemic has been on the safety of staff.
“We work closely with Public Health Wales and the local environmental health team, who conduct regular site visits and inspections, and we have implemented all their recommendations to ensure the safety of our staff,” they said.
“We meet regularly with the trade union and continue to follow Welsh Government guidance to ensure that our sites are Covid secure.
“All staff in roles that enable them to work from home are doing so and have throughout, in line with current government advice. However, in view of the essential nature of the public services we provide, some operational staff are required to be in the office where their role means they cannot work from home.”