As the Tories push ahead with a dangerous easing of lockdown restrictions, more than 1,000 people at a major government workplace struck last week for safety.
Some 1,400 workers at the Driver, Vehicle and Licensing Agency (DVLA) headquarters in Swansea demanded bosses allow more of them to work remotely.
Their four-day strike between Tuesday and Friday last week, came after more than 600 coronavirus cases were reported at the office in a year.
Strikers say bosses have ignored their pleas for home working.
Striker Sophia told an online 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 disgusting.”
The battle has been brewing since DVLA bosses forced 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. Workers said they sat less than a metre apart, and that the cleaning regime wasn’t adequate. 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 the 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, “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 time bomb, we’re given loads of excuses. But there is no excuse.”
The strikers have had widespread support, with messages of solidarity and the backing of several Labour MPs.
It shows that PCS should be able to beat the DVLA bosses—but they’ll need support from across the trade union movement.
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.”
Solidarity poured in
The PCS says support for the strike grew as it went on.
“More members joined the strike on 7 and 8 April after seeing the success and the outpouring of support from the local community, MPs and other unions,” it said.
In a message to last Tuesday’s rally one striker said, “I only decided last night that I would go on strike today. I just wanted to keep my head down.
“But I’m striking for safety.” DVLA staff who are working from home have also begun a work to rule in support of the strike.
The union should immediately follow up the success of the strike and keep up the pressure on DVLA bosses by calling more dates for action.