GEC accepts new talks on jobs and staffing

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The PCS Group Executive Committee has accepted the HMRC Chief Executive’’s offer of “talks aimed at resolving issues between the department and the union.

We have previously reported on the department unilaterally walking away from talks with the union, and the subsequent leak of a document outlining HMRC’s union busting tactics. The GEC have now provided detail of what has happened since.

Background

According to the GEC, despite HMRC abandoning talks, the following proposals had already come up:

  • A new Workforce Change structure with a defined and “enhanced” role for PCS at the “strategic” and “implementation” levels giving the union the opportunity to influence strategic resourcing decisions
  • The outline of an agreement to identify the extent to which HMRC could provide enhanced, project-by-project, compulsory redundancy avoidance measures with specific reference to consideration of “more flexible solutions”
  • An arrangement to discuss the “shared” concern that regular overtime is being used in places to mask staff shortages
  • Taking “the best bits” from existing agreements to form a new agreement and reassurances regarding privatisation and the involvement of the private sector
  • An offer of “continuing engagement” on PMR which includes consideration of the equality impacts and opportunities to “build confidence” in the process
  • An invitation for PCS to take a seat on the Building our Future steering committee which would be influential in both the HMRC location strategy and the employee engagement strategy
  • A plan to implement a “post-austerity” pay and reward strategy

The GEC has stated that it wishes to revisit these developments with HMRC as the basis for an agreement to resolve the dispute. This would, according to Conference policy, be subject to endorsement from members.

Developments

As soon as the leaked ExCom paper came to light, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka assumed personal responsibility for challenging Lin Homer and her strategy. A series of letters have since been exchanged which we are told helped to clarify both sides’ positions.

At the same time, the union was being consulted about the future of “check-off”, the facility by which the vast majority of members pay monthly union subscriptions, which has since been given a withdrawal date of the end of April.

From these exchanges, the GEC have confirmed the following:

  • A high-level meeting will take place, attended by Lin Homer, Mark Serwotka and our respective teams on 16th February to examine the potential for renewed “dialogue aimed at resolving the outstanding issues”, and to “build on common ground”, between HMRC and PCS
  • Subject to a positive outcome from the meeting, the GEC have agreed to attend a joint workshop with the employer which will look at improving Departmental Trade Union Side (DTUS) structures, re-establishing local bargaining mechanisms, reviewing casework handling arrangements and joint work to improve HMRC’s performance on engagement matters
  • The GEC have also agreed a range of practical measures which HMRC will provide to help ease the transition to a Direct Debit method of payment

The GEC believe that this represents progress and gives them the potential to secure meaningful gains from which both sides will benefit.

Context

The latest workforce management announcements in mid-January introduce a new uncertainty for AA members in Local Compliance and Debt Management and Banking. This is in addition to those whose job security is threatened by the department’s short-sighted and economically damaging office closure programme. Meanwhile, previous staffing cuts have increased the pressure on remaining staff to the extent that cyclical peaks of work, most notably the Self Assessment deadline, can be seen to induce a response from management which demonstrates a greater degree of panic than it does strategic planning.

Systematic and unlimited overtime is being offered to shore up the demonstrably inadequate flexible resourcing regime throughout January and in some locations this appears to include a deliberate departure from the Working Time Regulations.

Some members have legitimately speculated about the impact a reinstated overtime ban would have on HMRC’s ability to cope throughout a crucial period for them. But the Group Officers have taken the position that a renewed campaign of industrial action short of strike action, in light of the other challenges we face, is not currently likely to improve the prospects of a negotiated settlement which resolves the concerns at the centre of the dispute.

However, we would remind members that overtime is still largely voluntary and that volunteering for overtime, regularly or infrequently, allows management to mask staff shortages and undermines our claims for proper investment.

Conclusion

PCS remains in dispute with HMRC on a range of issues and jobs remain under threat, however the GEC will not be calling industrial action in the near future and have prioritised signing members up to direct debit with the help of the department.

Bootle Taxes Branch will continue working to build membership participation in circumstances which are increasingly difficult in terms of the available time and resourcesdue to a significant hostility to organised labour both in and beyond HMRC. We would encourage all members to feed back their views on the GEC’s decision to their reps and to attend our AGM next month and debate where the union needs to go from here.

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