More than 1,000 people at a major government workplace are on strike in a significant battle over workers’ safety from coronavirus.
Workers at the Driver, Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) headquarters in Swansea are demanding bosses allow more of them to work from home. Their four-day strike, which began on Tuesday of this week, comes after more than 600 coronavirus cases were reported at the office in a year.
Strikers say bosses have repeatedly ignored their pleas for home working.
One striker, Sophia, told an online strike rally, “Why have I decided to strike today? It’s to do with safety. I have been working in the contact centre, and to see the DVLA ignore the concerns of its staff is just disgusting.”
The battle has been brewing since DVLA bosses began forcing people back to on site working last year, having initially allowed most to work from home.
It became a major scandal in the national news in January after hundreds of cases were reported and workers spoke out against unsafe conditions. Workers said they were made to sit less than a metre apart, and that the cleaning regime in the building wasn’t good enough.
Yet bosses insisted the building was safe.
In talks with the PCS union, they refused to allow most of those in the office to work from home. And they have refused to release a report into home working after contracting consulting firm Deloitte to write it.
They even said workers were responsible for the outbreaks.
PCS branch chair Sarah Evans told the rally, “We were told that staff non-compliance and active social lives were to blame for positive cases. We were told they were typically of a younger age in the contact centre and as such they were all out drinking and catching the virus in that way.”
“We were dealing with an employer that had no interest in the safety of its staff.”
Mac, another striker from the DVLA’s contact centre, said “Our members were forced to go into work, working one metre apart back to back.
“We were told data protection and IT issues meant we couldn’t work from home. Data protection and IT issues didn’t stop the bosses from working from home.
“So when our members are the odd ones out, sitting on a ticking timebomb, we’re given a load of excuses. But there is no excuse.”
The strike is set to run until Friday of this week. And those who are already working from home will support them with an overtime ban and work to rule starting on Saturday.
The strikers have also had widespread support, with messages of solidarity, donations to the hardship fund and the backing of several Labour MPs.
It shows the PCS should be able to beat the DVLA bosses—but they’ll need support from across the trade union movement. Their battle is a fight for everyone fighting against unsafe workplaces.
Mac said, “The contempt for our members stems from the contempt that the Tory government has for public sector workers. We the key workers kept this country running through the pandemic and this is how they repay us.
“It’s important that we take action now.”