HMRC pulls out of dispute resolution talks

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  • HMRC uses flimsy pretext to abandon dispute resolution talks with PCS
  • 14 offices to close and up to 1269 jobs face the axe
  • Paying subs through payroll to end, switch to paying your subs by direct debit here
  • Keep up to date with the latest news on the branch and group websites

On the intranet, Chief Executive Lin Homer has announced that the department has withdrawn from dispute resolution talks with the union over jobs and staffing.

The talks, which began on 8 October and were scheduled to run until 4 November, were over a number of issues which PCS remains in dispute with the department over. Members should be well aware of the threats of job cuts and office closures in a number of areas, alongside the privatisation of work and the draconian performance management system.

Following on from our strike action in late June and late July, the Group Executive Committee voted to suspend our ongoing industrial action short of a strike, including the overtime ban, in order to engage in talks without preconditions. This was at the insistence of HMRC, who refused to talk while any action was going on.
Homer’s announcement comes thirteen days after the announcement of considerable job cuts and office closures by HMRC, and only underlines that the department never had any serious intent to resolve the dispute.

Any excuse

Homer claims that an article in the union’s magazine, Oracle, amounts to a breach of trust. The reason? Because our interpretation of events over a local dispute in Dundee differs from hers.

She claims that the FTAs in Dundee would have gotten jobs anyway, and that the threat of strike action in that office made no difference.

However, Homer omits the fact that the location of those jobs – determined without any dialogue with PCS – left hundreds of FTAs at risk of redundancy, including all of those in Dundee and at other sites where no vacancies were created.

In order to fulfil its statutory requirements under redundancy legislation, HMRC was obliged to meet with PCS regularly from 90 days in advance of the termination date of the FTA’s contracts. Despite PCS raising the issue in every fortnightly meeting, no solution was offered by HMRC until 10:46am on 15 September. At that precise time – 76 minutes before members in Sidlaw House, Dundee were poised to take the action demanded by 95.8% of members in an office ballot – PCS received an email advising that jobs had been found in the DWP for those wishing to continue their employment with the civil service.

As a result, PCS suspended its action with exactly what we were striking for secured.

Homer may still believe that this didn’t mean the strike action secured the jobs, and she has every right to engage in such self-delusion. But the union had every right to lay out its interpretation in its own publication. How does this harm national talks or ‘breach trust’ as Homer has claimed? Can trust now only be based on every last communication by an independent trade union agreeing exactly with the interpretation and ideological line of the employer?

Rather than a breach of trust, what this demonstrates is an employer who engaged in talks in bad faith now seeking any excuse to get out of them.

HMRC playing games

It should be quite clear to everyone that the department is playing games in order to advance the austerity agenda.

PCS balloted you over jobs and staffing earlier this year because efforts to resolve the issues were going nowhere. In response to the positive ballot result and the likely action the union would take, HMRC offered talks, which PCS agreed to.

However with no concrete offer on the table the union still issued notice for strike action. This was in line with a motion passed at Conference which this branch put forward. Members voted for it for a very simple reason: it is a long-established HMRC tactic to offer talks if action is suspended, then drag them out for months to bury a dispute and kill its momentum. Delegates voted for the policy recognising that we’ve fallen for this too many times.

HMRC responded by calling off talks. While employers serious about resolving disputes will stay in negotiations right up to the eleventh hour in the hope of averting strike action, the department walked away. They claimed that it was PCS unwilling to talk constructively, but in reality they remained determined to force their tactic to derail our dispute upon us by any means.

This began the war of attrition. Strike action was well supported, and caused considerable disruption, but HMRC would not budge. Their demand remained the same: no talks as long as action is ongoing.

Eventually, despite Conference policy, the GEC felt they had no choice but to at least explore talks and agreed to suspend action for four weeks, from 8 October to 4 November.

On October 1, in a meeting to set the scene for formal talks beginning a week later, the department’s negotiating team opened discussions by stating three things:

  • Office closure and redundancies would be announced whilst the talks were taking place but the details could not be shared in advance with the union;
  • HMRC planned to announce the formal commencement of consultation aimed at ending check-off, the system whereby PCS pays the employer to deduct trade union subscription fees directly from wages;
  • HMRC wanted PCS to make an allocation of facilities time to our representatives based on 0.1% of paybill, which would mean that senior representatives and entire branches of the union would have no time to offer help and representation to members until April 2015.

Despite this extreme provocation and bad faith, PCS did not walk away from the talks. Negotiators continued to approach the negotiations with an open mind, hoping to secure a framework for engagement over all of the aspects of our Jobs and Staffing campaign and the future strategic direction of the department. Negotiators planned to present the outcome of those talks to the GEC on November 12 for decision.

By contrast, HMRC have walked away from the same talks without prior notice over a disagreement on the wording of an article in the union magazine.

Unnecessary cuts still happening

PCS remains in dispute with HMRC over jobs and staffing and the department remains committed to cutting jobs and closing offices.

On 16 October HMRC announced that:

  • 14 offices have been earmarked to close between April & December 2015;
  • 453 people currently working in these offices will be placed into the Redundancy Pool;
  • 690 AAs at 22 PT Operations locations can apply for voluntary exits;
  • The Regional Post Rooms currently sited at 4 locations are scheduled to close with 46 AAs at Cumbernauld & Shipley declared surplus & offered Voluntary Redundancy;
  • 20 people at a number of locations have been declared surplus & offered Voluntary Redundancy, with a further 20 people invited to apply for voluntary exits;
  • 40 people at Wellesley House Stockport have been invited to apply for voluntary exits.

None of these cuts are necessary. The announcements from HMRC come at the same time as it says that £34 billion in tax went uncollected last year & follows a consultation this summer during which the union raised the department’s inability to properly tackle tax avoidance & evasion.

PCS last month published a new report on the extent of tax evasion, which says HMRCs estimate for the tax gap at £34 billion is a serious underestimate of the amount currently avoided, evaded or just not collected; collecting even this would though change the debate about the funding of public services overnight.

PCS believes that HMRCs plan to cut thousands more jobs by 2016 is fundamentally wrong.

HMRC is currently spending nearly £4 Million every month on overtime which in itself demonstrates a need for more staff not less.

The GEC have not yet formally reinstated industrial action short of a strike, and will be consulting branches on the next steps. We urge members to feed back your views on what the union needs to do now to your local reps.

What you can do now

In the meantime, with HMRC having clearly indicated that it intends to follow the DWP and Home Office in withdrawing Check Off, we urge all members to protect their union membership.

The removal of check off is a clear political attack, aimed at preventing or delaying the union’s access to the funds it uses to provide you with representation, legal advice and other services. If you haven’t already, please sign up to Direct Debit today.

You can get a form off your nearest rep, or do this online in a matter of minutes here.

We would also urge all members to regularly check online for updates. We will always hand out information on industrial action outside of work, but the employer is in another political attack trying to limit our communications with members in the workplace.

Sign up for email and text alerts here.

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2 thoughts on “HMRC pulls out of dispute resolution talks

  1. Pingback: GEC accepts new talks on jobs and staffing | PCS Bootle Taxes Branch

  2. Pingback: Revenue & Customs Group Conference Report | PCS Bootle Taxes Branch

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