Driving examiners and line managers at the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency have voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in response to proposals for the addition of an extra test into daily schedules.
The PCS union said 92% of its members who took part in the ballot have backed walkouts over the new schedules, which are due to be introduced from 11 October and will require examiners to perform eight tests a day.
PCS, which is the civil service’s largest union, said 95% of members who took part supported protests short of strike action. Turnout was 80% for the ballot – well in excess of the 50% required for any decision to be legitimate under the Trade Union Act 2016.
DVSA said the new schedules would help deal with backlogs caused by the coronavirus pandemic by delivering an additional 15,000 to 20,000 tests every month. It currently has 1,890 driving examiners – not all of whom are union members.
PCS said examiners are already working to “time pressured” schedules and that there are clear risks associated with DVSA’s plans.
“We have concerns around both the wellbeing of members and the health and safety implications to the public of introducing an additional test,” the union said.
PCS is today holding a final day of members' meetings following the ballot to discuss potential strike action, aimed at defending current “working terms and conditions” for examiners and line managers. It said it was also open to talks with DVSA management.
DVSA chief executive Loveday Ryder said it is “disappointing” that PCS has chosen to take its current course of action.
“The country has endured so much as a result of Covid-19 and we have been in regular discussion with PCS on how we can support the recovery of our services,” she said.
“Safely reducing driving test waiting times will contribute to the national recovery effort and we are taking steps to provide thousands of learner drivers with the vital driving tests they need to access employment, education, health and social activities.
“As part of our plans to increase the number of tests available, we have trialled examiners carrying out an additional test per day, during their normal working hours. The safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues is paramount. We continue to work with colleagues and PCS on these proposed changes."
DVSA said there is “no contractual entitlement” for examiners to have a seven-test day.
“This is a proposed change to how the work is organised,” DVSA said. “It is reasonable for employers to request that staff work differently within their contracted hours.”
It said that between April 2020 and March 2021, the number of driving tests for car licenses carried out decreased by 72.7% compared to the previous year. It said the current national average waiting time for a car test is 14 weeks, against a target of six weeks. DVSA said that in some areas, waiting times are up to 24 weeks.
The agency said that more than half a million learner drivers currently have a test booked.
DVSA said it is looking to recruit an additional 300 examiners to help deal with the testing backlogs, as well as recruiting additional vocational examiners to support an increase in tests for lorry drivers.
Other strategies include asking all qualified testers who no longer conduct tests to return to that work, offering to buy back leave from testing staff and paying overtime for out of hours testing – such as at weekends and on public holidays.
DVSA is also offering recently retired examiners the opportunity to return to work undertaking tests.