Stop using rapid-response teams for 'strike breaking', PCS says

Union says staff are deployed "often against their own will and conscience” to "undermine" strikes
Border Force workers on strike. Photo: PA/Alamy

By Tevye Markson

25 May 2023

Surge and rapid response teams should not be made to cross picket lines to cover striking civil servants' work, PCS has said.

Members of the biggest civil service union backed a motion seeking to end this government practice at PCS’s annual conference on 23 May, saying it “undermines” strikes and puts officials in a difficult position.

The Surge and Rapid Response Team is a unique civil service team that lends extra capacity to departments to deals with peaks in demands and crises.

It was created in 2015 within HM Revenue and Customs as a way to improve operational resilience across the civil service. SRRT can provide support to any central government department or agency to manage predictable annual peaks in demand, as well as responding to unexpected crises within the scope of the operational delivery profession.

SSRT staff have been deployed to cover striking civil servants in Border Force and HM Passport Office, two of the first organisations to be hit by industrial action in PCS's national campaign over pay, pensions and conditions, the union said.

HMRC just missed out on the 50% threshold needed for strike action in the November ballot. Union members in the tax agency have since backed industrial action – reaching the threshold in a reballot in February – which means they now have a mandate to strike until August.

Amy, a Wales-based HMRC official – who put forward the motion calling for an end to this practice – said SRRT officials were hired to handle sudden work surges but have been ”assigned to strike-breaking roles, often against their own will and conscience”.

She said this puts SRRT officials in “uncomfortable positions where they are expected to cross picket lines when our colleagues are taking strike action”, with no legal recourse to avoid such assignments.

“We’ve also come across situations where people have requested to take time off so as not to cross those picket lines, and also in solidarity, which have also been denied,” Amy said.

“Using surge staff for strike breaking completely undermines our union’s position and its national campaign and prevents what national action is targeted for, to cause disruption,” she added.

Clive Bryant, a PCS member representing the union’s National Executive Committee, said SRRT staff have been deployed nationwide in diverse roles, including postings in France.

Bryant said that some of these deployments were inappropriate given the specialised nature of work being covered.

The NEC will now seek negotiations with the Cabinet Office to demand an end to the deployment of SRRT staff “where they are intended to undermine industrial action”.

The Cabinet Office and HMRC have been approached for comment.

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