On 30 July, PCS members in the North West of England and in Wales fired the opening shot of three days of rolling strikes across HMRC. As ever, Bootle Taxes Branch delivered a solid turnout for the action.
At Litherland House, only 4 staff crossed the picket line, all of them non-members. Obviously, “I’m not in the union” isn’t an excuse for strike breaking – the same issues affect all staff and whether or not you’re a PCS member doesn’t change the fact that you’re undermining us by providing the employer with the labour the rest of us are withdrawing. But it at least shows the resolve of those in the union to keep the fight going.
Over at the Triad, around 60 people went into work. This was less than 5% of staff who work in the building, and included members of the ARC union who had no legal mandate to strike. However, it is worth noting that alongside a hard core of regular strike-breakers, the bulk of those who came in had been diverted from other business areas to take calls in our Contact Centre.
This clearly demonstrates the disruptive effect that our action is having on the employer.
Both Chief Executive Lin Homer and Personal Tax Director Ruth Owen had earlier taken to the intranet to denounce the strikes. Obviously meant as a propagandistic appeal to staff to come in, in many places this actually spurred more people who were on the fence to come out striking as it showed their absolute contempt for staff whose annual pay is less than their bonuses.
They argued that PCS was heartlessly targeting those most vulnerable taxpayers who need the vital services that HMRC delivers. However, given that the union’s stance is highlighting just how short-staffed the department is even as it continues to cut, this was nothing more than blithe hypocrisy. Especially as our pickets received support from a steady stream of those vulnerable customers who came to the Triad looking for our Enquiry Centre.
They were incensed that HMRC had snatched their service away with little to no fanfare and fully in agreement with PCS that continuing to cut jobs was a disgrace. Many of them, given the department’s leaflet telling them to access the new service over the phone or via the internet, told us that they simply didn’t have access to the internet and were eternally frustrated by the phone service. In short, as we already knew from the consultation the department chose to ignore, the public were on our side over the question of job cuts.
Our case has gained extra weight by the dummy-out-the-pram response from HMRC to our action. With the current level of staff in the department, they desperately lurch from crisis to crisis, trying to shift staff to whichever backlog is the most pressing at that moment. With so many staff out on strike for just three days, crisis becomes outright panic – and yet supposedly they can easily adjust to the permanent loss of 10,000 staff in the immediate term and a further 18,000 by 2020? Somehow we doubt it.
The fight to save jobs and get HMRC to invest in additional staff – as well as to drop the disgusting and discriminatory performance management system – doesn’t end with these strikes. The next phase will involve action short of strike aimed at slowing down work and creating disruption on the job. We will of course keep members fully informed of all developments.
The branch extends its thanks to all of our members who took part in this action. Our solidarity also goes to PCS members in the Passport Office who took action on Monday over a similar staffing crisis, and to Ministry of Justice Shared Services staff who our reps have been proud to stand alongside on their picket line as they battle against privatisation and their jobs being offshored. An injury to one is an injury to all.