Members of the PCS union who work at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency are being asked for their views on the ongoing dispute over coronavirus safety measures at the organisation’s Swansea campus.
DVLA workers who are part of the union voted in favour of strike action in a ballot that concluded in March, after concerns about infection levels among staff and management requirements for around one-third of the 6,000-strong workforce to return to the site.
In the intervening months, multiple days of strike action have hit the Department for Transport agency’s operations and prompted it to resort to contractors to perform some functions, according to PCS.
The union has also claimed it negotiated a deal to end the dispute with DVLA management and DfT perm sec Bernadette Kelly, only for it to be “scuppered” by the department’s ministerial team. Transport secretary Grant Shapps sidestepped questions on the issue in parliament at the end of June.
In a three-week consultative ballot that launches today, the union said it wanted to gauge DVLA members’ priorities about a new deal to end the dispute and their appetite for further strike action in the autumn.
A union spokesperson said the ballot would not affect industrial action that is currently taking place – such as a month of strikes in DVLA’s drivers’ medical section, which is now in its second week.
“The action continues to be well supported, with less than a third of those employed in drivers medical going into work,” the spokesperson said.
“Backlogs continue to mount and are now in excess of a quarter of a million, and still more incoming post is unopened in crates. These backlogs will continue to put pressure on DVLA management, who continue to provoke members by talk of moving work off site rather than finding an agreed resolution to this strike.”
DVLA management has consistently rejected the suggestion that the coronavirus-related safety measures at it is headquarters campus are inadequate.
“The safety of our staff is paramount and since the beginning of the year we have implemented weekly Covid testing for everyone,” a spokesperson for the agency said.
“Since the outbreak of the pandemic we have reorganised our eight buildings in line with official advice, and utilised space in a newly-leased building to further assist with social distancing measures. We have also installed thermal imaging cameras to carry out temperature checks on people entering the buildings.
“As these measures have been implemented, we have worked closely with Public Health Wales along with Swansea Environmental Health and the Health and Safety Executive, who have conducted regular site visits and inspections and have repeatedly confirmed a high level of compliance with control measures.”
DVLA said it had spent more than £5.7m on safety measures designed to keep staff safe on site, including leasing the new building, installing Perspex screens and temperature check stations, and introducing a rigorous cleaning regime throughout the day.
The agency added that there were currently nine staff who had tested positive for coronavirus.
In January, DVLA chief exec Julie Lennard told MPs that the 500-plus cases of coronavirus recorded among staff in the previous four months were a reflection of infection levels in the wider community and that it was wrong to portray the cases as a “mass outbreak” at the agency.
PCS had earlier called on ministers to intervene to protect the safety of DVLA staff at Swansea.
The union’s consultative ballot runs until 3 September.