Members will be aware that we have formally objected to the department’s new attendance management policy, which has been unilaterally imposed without PCS agreement. Whilst we continue to press for the withdrawal of the policy, and to negotiate an agreement which genuinely addresses the wellbeing of staff, we will be balloting all members to take part in industrial action. The ballot will begin on 23 March and close on 13 April.
The new policy reduces by 50% the consideration points for management action in the event of sick absence, from 10 days to 5 days and from 5 occasions to 3 occasions in any 12 month period. In addition, time taken to attend routine medical or dental appointments (excluding disability adjustment leave and pregnancy related appointments) will have to be taken in members’ own time and will not be reimbursed.
We believe that these policy changes, taken in conjunction with changes to the discipline policy, special leave and pending changes to appraisal, could be used by the department to victimise and harass members and ultimately make it easier for the department to sack staff. The new policy places an additional burden on already overstretched managers at a time when all available resources should be devoted to collecting taxes and closing the tax gap. HMRC has failed to produce any formal plans to address the wellbeing of its staff. Instead it has chosen to concentrate its efforts on punitive steps dealing with the deterrent measures rather than the causes of sickness. The view of your GEC is that the revised attendance policy has the potential to be used as a blunt instrument which will result in more members being dismissed more quickly for poor attendance due to illness.
All members will receive a ballot paper through the post to the postal address we have recorded on our membership system. The ballot will be a statutory ballot and will ask members two questions: whether you are willing to take strike action; and whether you are prepared to take action short of a strike. The action we will ask members to take will be based on causing maximum disruption to the department whilst ensuring that members incur minimal financial loss. The intended action will therefore include short walkouts at peak times and in key areas, coordinated breaks and lunch times, working to rule, non-compliance with the new policy and the withdrawal of goodwill on a range of duties.
It is not our intention at this stage to ask members to take any full day’s action, but if we are to be in a position to stage walkouts or to coordinate break times then we will need a mandate for strike action. This is why we are asking two questions on the ballot paper, and this is why it is essential that all members vote YES/YES in the ballot.
In making our representations we have made it clear to HMRC that the new policy is totally unacceptable and that we consider this to be a major change in terms and conditions. PCS consider that the department’s newly published policy is potentially discriminatory, particularly against members with impairments, those who work part time and women. In addition we fear that a strict application of the new policy may lead to members not addressing their health and well-being at an early stage. PCS is in discussion with its solicitors to formally assess the legal implications of these changes.
We met with CEO Lesley Strathie and her team, including the Chief People Officer and Head of HR, last week and took the opportunity to outline our position on the attendance management policy and in relation to the associated industrial relations issues generally which accompanies the unilateral publication of this and any other policies. HMRC senior officials were clearly unaware of the level of discontent the attendance management policy changes in relation to consideration points and time off for medical appointments was causing amongst staff.
HMRC senior management has since offered to meet a joint PCS/ARC team next Wednesday, 16 March. We trust that this is as a positive step but in any event we will use the opportunity to attempt to reach a negotiated settlement with HMRC which reflects the following objectives:
- That in the meantime HMRC withdraws the imposed attendance management Policy;
- That HMRC remove the unilaterally published consideration points and replace with those used previously;
- That HMRC remove the requirement that time taken to attend a routine medical appointment must be made up;
- That in any event HMRC carry out a full equality impact assessment (EQIA) on the revised policy.
We are urging all members to vote YES/YES in the forthcoming ballot for industrial action. This campaign is about protecting our members’ terms and conditions at a time when the government want to drastically reduce the number of civil and public servants across the whole of the public sector. Changes being imposed by HMRC are not conducive to good industrial relations and will ultimately make it easier, and cheaper, for HMRC to victimise and dismiss staff.
Please do everything you can to support your union and help defend your terms and conditions. Ask your branch officers how you can offer your support in ensuring we win the ballot; assist in the distribution of strike materials; arrange and attend members’ meetings near your workplace.
DAVE BEAN GROUP PRESIDENT | PETER LOCKHART GROUP SECRETARY