Starting yesterday, workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licencing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea – organised by the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) – have again downed their tools and gone on strike.
This is the third week of strike action at the DVLA offices in Swansea.
Support for the strike has been massive. The DVLA Swansea has become the biggest branch of PCS, with over 3,500 members.
Our members have been treated with absolute contempt by the bosses and the Tories. Our determination is now stronger than ever to win this dispute.
Hope of a deal
During the first two strikes, our demands fell on deaf ears. But management has changed their tone after our threat of an all-out strike.
Things have started to turn. Just over a week ago, the bosses came out with concessions. They delayed the return to work, and offered a package to settle the dispute. This included:
- A review around working from home for all workers, regardless of grade. The DVLA was to liaise with other government departments in working towards a hybrid workplace – with staff working from home or on site, depending on risk assessments and the needs of workers themselves.
- Half-a-day off per week as respite for burnt-out staff. DVLA workers are under unbelievable pressure. The main site is dealing with an immense backlog of work. In the Contact Centre, where I work, we take call after call after call with little time for a breather. Our members face increasing abuse. I have spoken to several members who are on the verge of a breakdown. Fighting for some kind of respite is particularly important for our members.
- A financial recognition payment for going above and beyond, providing a crucial public service in a pandemic.
- A slow and careful return to work, based on risk assessments and overseen by the union.
The devil is in the details, and we demanded more talks to discuss these proposals. These concessions were nowhere near enough for us to settle this dispute. But it was something that we could have worked with.
Morning from the picket line! We're on strike again at the DVLA Contact Centre because the management made an offer and then withdrew it last minute. Definitely nothing to do with you @grantshapps? pic.twitter.com/mIaBFhbV6I— PCS DVLA Branch (@pcs_dvla) June 2, 2021
The DVLA asked us to postpone this week’s strike to engage in further discussions. We decided to neither postpone the strike, nor confirm it, but to wait and see how Tuesday’s talks went before we made a decision.
This turned out to be the right call. On Tuesday, the DVLA negotiating team scandalously pulled everything off the table.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, has said that he has never seen such a move in his years as a leading trade union activist.
Every trades unionist knows this is true. RT if you agree! pic.twitter.com/PixUFbgoqA— PCS Union (@pcs_union) June 2, 2021
When questioned, the clearly embarrassed DVLA negotiating team – led by head of HR Louise White – said that they could not say why this deal was being pulled, nor who had made the decision.
PCS members were not born yesterday though. We know that this is a result of an intervention by the upper echelons of the Department for Transport. It is very possible that Tory transport minister Grant Shapps was involved.
Management has tried to embarrass the union by getting us to cancel the strike. But they have instead shot themselves in the foot.
By conceding the demands in the first place, they have essentially admitted to all DVLA workers that the union was right all along and that change is desperately needed. But with the U-turn, they have also confirmed that they are not to be trusted.
You have to be living under a rock to think that these bosses and their friends in government feel anything but contempt towards us – the workers and the union.
We quickly arranged an online meeting to update our members. This was attended by almost 500 members. At the branch executive committee, we have made a unanimous decision to go on strike from yesterday through to Sunday.
Our tactics are for the long term. We are prepared to strike for months if needed. This will take the form of disruptive and targeted action.
This week, all Contact Centre workers are on strike – whether on site or working from home. I was on the picket line yesterday morning, and the site was all but empty.
We had workers driving towards the picket line and turning around after they realised the strike was indeed on.
It is impossible to get through to the DVLA call centre, either on phone or on webchat. The automated message informs callers of industrial action, apologises, and hangs up on you automatically.
Another strike notice is ready for the Contact Centre for next week. The week after we have a notice ready for the input services – workers receiving, opening, and processing incoming mail and applications. And we have plans for further walkouts in the weeks after that.
We will accept nothing short of bringing the deal back to the table, so we can continue discussing a fair and just deal for PCS members and all DVLA workers.
It is crucial that we highlight the real motivations at play here.
Whether management pulled the deal out of incompetence or as an attempt to deceive us is a secondary matter. The important thing is that these senior Tories and DfT bosses cannot stand the thought of us winning – because that would set a precedent and become an inspiration for workers everywhere.
A victory for DVLA workers would be an example for PCS members in JobCentres or in the DVSA, who are currently also in a dispute over unfair pressure and unsafe conditions.
It would prove to be an example for workers and trade unionists across the whole country. The lesson would be clear: at the DVLA, workers got organised and unionised, and won against all odds. This would be a defeat not just for the bosses, but for the Tory government.
These ladies and gentlemen only care about maintaining profits and revenue, at the cost of workers’ health and safety; our mental health; our lives and livelihoods.
But we are the ones, ultimately, who keep things running. We are the ones who handle the mail, process applications, and handle the calls in this important public sector department. And we have the industrial power to change things.
By organising and taking action, DVLA workers in Swansea have shown that it is possible to win concessions in the face of a hostile, anti-union, anti-worker Tory government. We have grown from strength to strength, and are preparing for battle, with the aim of decisively winning this dispute.
Forward to victory!
We have had excellent support from PCS nationally, led by Left Unity. We have also had amazing support from many trade union branches, who have sent solidarity messages and donations. Our fighting fund already stands at over £40,000, and PCS has pledged a seven-digit figure to support us.
We were directly supported on the picket lines by the Swansea Trades Council and activists from Unite the Union. We also had widespread support from local Labour parties, the Socialist Campaign Group in Parliament, and the six Labour MPs in Swansea, Llanelli, and Neath.
We need to build on this. Please raise support for our strike in your local organisation, and consider donating to our strike fund. Also please support us in person at the solidarity rally outside the Department for Transport office in London on Wednesday 9 June.
Victory to the DVLA workers! Victory to PCS!
Solidarity donations can be made to this account:
Account Name: Fighting Fund Levy
A/C No: 20331490
Sort code: 60-83-01