|Volume 51 Number 10, March 27, 2021||ARCHIVE||HOME||JBCENTRE||SUBSCRIBE|
Workers at the Driving Vehicle Licensing Association (DVLA) contact centre in the Clase area of Swansea have voted for strike action after insufficient action by management to deal with an ongoing Covid-19 outbreak. The outbreak was first declared in December last year, when 352 people had tested positive since September. Regardless of this official recognition, this number had inflated to over 500 by the end of January. On a turnout of 50%, members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) backed strikes by 72% over what the union has labelled "the worst Covid workplace outbreak" in Britain.
The DVLA has attempted to excuse itself by stating that it has been following the guidance of the Welsh Government at "every single point throughout the pandemic". Defending the government and the management in January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed that officials had been "working flat-out" to test employees at the site.
The fact is that over 6,000 people work at the 16-floor building, and even during the outbreak, it has been staffed by 2,000 workers every day. PCS is demanding that this be reduced to the level of a few hundred at most. The union is further demanding that all vulnerable workers be sent home, and given paid leave if unable to work from home.
"Our members have sent a loud and clear message that they are not safe at their place of work," said PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka. "The strength of feeling amongst staff comes as no surprise, given the management's disregard for the safety of their workers. Our members have been forced into this position and industrial action will take place unless management immediately implements all necessary changes to ensure staff are safe at work."
The DVLA are continuing to coerce and pressure workers into giving up their action, asserting that the stand taken by the workers is not in the interests of society. "Any industrial action is likely to have a detrimental impact on motorists as we begin the first stages of the road map out of lockdown and the UK vaccination rollout programme is in full swing," claimed the management.
Workers are rejecting any such pressure to silence them from speaking out and acting to defend their interests and the rights of all. Essentially, the management and the government are claiming that some kind of balance needs to be struck between the health of these workers and the wider interests, as if these were opposed. It is by now abundantly clear that that workplaces are a key factor in controlling the spread of Covid-19. Staffing an office with 2,000 people is a clear attempt to shut their eyes to the current crisis and continue as far as possible with business as usual. But there is no "balance" in dealing with the virus, and there can be no "business as usual" - this amounts to a plain disregard for health and safety.
It is crucial that society and the economy mobilise to protect the health of every individual - in so doing, they will protect the health of all. Further, working conditions should be determined by the workers who work in them. Workers should be central to decision-making.
Around 200 workers at SPS Technologies, which supplies parts for the aerospace industry, have been striking over a punishing cut to pay and conditions being imposed by a fire-and-rehire contract change. Cuts in sick pay and pay for overtime and breaks, as well as shift premiums, amount to a loss in the region of £2,500 to £3,000 per person employed at the SPS Barkby Road site. Taking a stand against this imposition, which has attempted to marginalise their collective voice completely, the workers, members of union Unite, took action over the plans, with 24-hour strikes on March 12, 19, 22 and 26.
Fire and rehire - the unilateral tearing-up of employment contracts and rehiring on new, invariably inferior, terms - is an organised offensive by employers to restructure workplace arrangements. Employers are increasingly polarising the social relation in which they stand with workers, exacerbating the prevailing disequilibrium for self-serving ends. Employers have been using the pandemic in particular to serve their competitive and profit-driven private interests.
Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said: "Our members are incandescent at SPS's fire and rehire threats, particularly in light of their hard work keeping the company operational during the pandemic. It is shameful that SPS is using this terrible virus as an opportunity to attack its workers' terms and conditions.
"These penury-inducing cuts would see workers lose between £2,500 and £3,000 a year for performing the same amount of work. If implemented, much of the workforce will be forced to take up pay day loans and second jobs simply to get by.
"SPS's leadership should realise that this dispute will continue to escalate until an offer is put forward that our members can accept.
"Unite's door is always open and SPS can prevent the serious disruption these strikes will cause to the company's operations and reputation by returning to the negotiating table with a serious offer."
Workers are calling a halt to the increasing polarisation of the relation with their employers, which is upsetting their lives and conditions. They demand an end to imposition. To resolve this, so that workers have control over these important matters, requires a fundamental change in the direction of the economy. It requires that working people constitute a new kind of authority where they speak in their own name and set the terms in establishing an equilibrium in their favour and in favour of society.
Communications workers at BT, including OpenReach and EE, are being balloted for what would be the first national strike action at the company since 1987. Aiming to consolidate its currently hundreds of locations into just 30 sites, BT is to make compulsory redundancies and recontract those employees it retains. Their union, the CWU, has described the move as "an unprecedented and sustained assault on job security and hard-won terms and conditions". It has also pointed to management's "belligerent" stance, unwilling to "negotiate meaningfully" and "pursuing a brutal and needlessly confrontational agenda".
CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said: "Even by the most basic standards of how a big employer like BT should be treating its workforce the company's actions have been completely unacceptable. It's quite clear management's plans are all about compulsory redundancies, attacking terms and conditions and carrying out site closures without any consultation with the union or the workforce."
"We didn't pick this fight. In fact, we've provided management with every possible opportunity to step back from the brink, consistently offering to work in partnership with the business to address whatever challenges it faces - just as we've done on numerous occasions over the decades since privatisation," said Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr. "What we're not prepared to accept, however, is seeing members' cherished job security and terms and conditions being attacked on multiple fronts, with longstanding colleagues being picked off one by one... If BT don't want us to ballot then they can have us back round the negotiating table just as soon as they want. Our door is still open, and we want to resolve this dispute, but this will require a huge shift in attitude from the company. At this point in time that doesn't look as if it's going to happen - and that's why we're gearing up to fight."
Once again, workers' rights, such as the right to a livelihood, are being violated by a big monopoly. Workers are demanding their right to decide and control their conditions. The workers are stating loud and clear, reinforced by their collective action, that they will not stand idly by and allow this imposition.