Revenue & Customs Group Conference Report

2015-05-18 14.12.37

Mal Blinston with his and Frank Doran’s Distingushed Life Membership awards

PCS held its Revenue & Customs Group Delegate Conference in Brighton from 18-19 May 2015.

Every year, Conference is the opportunity for PCS members to dictate union policy for the coming year by passing motions through their branch’s AGMs and by using Mandate Meetings to instruct their delegates which way to vote on those motions at Conference.

Using our own time, either annual leave or flexi, the delegates from Bootle Taxes made sure as ever that we argued our branch’s corner. There were a great many debates, some more heated than others, and we didn’t always get our way. But we always voted in line with the branch’s mandate and policies and made sure that your voice was heard by the group and national executives.

A full record of decisions should be available soon. This report gives a flavour of the issues discussed.

The branch put thirteen motions to Group Conference this year – nine motions passed at our AGM and four emergency motions passed at our Mandate Meeting. Of these, seven motions were taken by the national president from the Group to the National Conference agenda on the grounds that they were more appropriate there.

With some of these this wasn’t an issue as the motions could still be debated. However, it meant that two were stuck in limbo as they sought to instruct our Group Executive Committee (GEC) to take a line on the suspension of industrial action – they were moved to National since calling and suspension of industrial action is the remit of the National Disputes Committee (NDC). However, National Conference cannot instruct a GEC what attitude to take on action and so they couldn’t be debated.

Whilst this was disappointing, we were still able to make our arguments on this point at Group Conference and can still challenge the GEC on this issue if it arises again.

Performance Management

Bootle Taxes delegate John Virtue

John Virtue speaking on Performance Management

Performance Management (PMR) was, just as the year before, the first issue on the agenda at Group. Just as last year, Bootle Taxes sought to censure the GEC for failing to put non-cooperation with the system – policy since ADC 2013 – into practice and actually get it implemented.

This year, however, there was a rival motion calling for a reversal of the policy in favour of full engagement. The branches supporting this position argued that the system was on the brink of collapse and that throwing ourselves into it would push it over the edge. Members arbitrarily marked Must Improve and fighting through a rigged appeal system would perhaps disagree. As we argued in the debate, the system has embedded itself and cooperation strengthens rather than weakens it.

Unfortunately, the vote went in favour of the rival motion. The only hope of consolation we can take from this is that the GEC, having been finally given a mandate for what they’ve been doing in defiance of Conference for two years, may at least produce effective guidance in a timely fashion rather than lacklustre guidance, late.

Building Our Future

Bootle Taxes delegate Phil Dickens

Phil Dickens speaking on Building Our Future

Later on in the morning, there was a debate on the PCS approach to the Building Our Future (BOF) meetings. This debate pitted three positions against one another – a strategy which included a boycott of BOF, one which argued for engaging with it on PCS’s terms and campaigning over the issues it presented (which our delegates were mandated to support), and a motion from the GEC asking that we engage in talks with management and see what happens, not yet taking up either form of campaigning.

It very quickly became clear that branches thought the GEC motion was far too weak, offering nothing except taking management at their word. Since BOF was explicitly mentioned in HMRC’s union-busting strategy, branches weren’t prepared to do that. As our delegate put it: “HMRC were very clear that they were happy to re-engage in talks with ARC [the senior management union] once it was happy it had broken them. If it wants to talk to us on this, it thinks we’re broken too.” We argued that the way to refute that impression was to support a proper campaign strategy, and underlined the one members at our Mandate Meeting had voted to support.

Ultimately, the motion we supported won and the GEC position was decisively batted down. This not only means that the decision of Bootle Taxes members on BOF is now union policy, but that we have a way to challenge it and the cuts agenda it is trying to sell us, rather than appearing to meekly go along with it.

Jobs and staffing

Delegates to PCS R&C Group Conference

Delegates to PCS R&C Group Conference

Another key debate of Group was on the dispute with HMRC over jobs and staffing.

Members will remember that industrial action was suspended in September for ‘talks without preconditions.’ The branch has always been critical of this approach, since we believe that the department’s insistence that it will only talk if we call off any action is disingenuous and a delaying tactic. Employers serious about resolving disputes will engage in talks up to the eleventh hour in the hope that a deal can be reached which calls off action – and calling off action ahead of talks only removes any incentive for HMRC to make a deal.

We argued this at Conference, pointing out that suspending action gave the employer the window it needed to make a massive office closure and job cuts announcement unopposed and then abandon talks – an approach later revealed by a leaked document to be part of a union busting strategy.

Unfortunately, the branch’s motion which would have committed the GEC to not repeating their past mistakes wasn’t heard due to being one of those caught in limbo as described above. However, several motions on jobs and staffing were passed, and while the final resolution wasn’t as strong as we think it could have been there is nonetheless a commitment to fighting if there isn’t significant movement from HMRC in the near future.

We will, as ever, keep members fully informed of developments – good and bad.

Distinguished Life Membership

Mal Blinston with his and Frank Doran's Distinguished Life Membership awards

Mal Blinston with his and Frank Doran’s Distinguished Life Membership awards

Every year, Conference recognises the work of PCS reps who have left the union, particularly those with long service who have made a mark beyond their own branch.

This year, our former branch chair Frank Doran was honoured with a posthumous Distinguished Life Membership (DLM) award. This was collected on his behalf by Frank’s long time friend Mal Blinston, also a founder of our branch and recipient of a DLM in his own right. This award was undoubtedly a high point of Conference and the only regret was that Frank could not collect the award himself.

Conference gave a standing ovation to the ‘Bootle boys,’ whose impact on our branch and its reputation as a militant, fighting branch will no doubt continue to be felt as long as Bootle Taxes exists.

Other decisions

Debi Clisham speaking on sexual harrassment policy

Debi Clisham speaking on sexual harrassment policy

Beyond the big debates reported above, there were of course many other decisions taken by Conference. Delegates voted on motions which decided negotiating priorities both across HMRC and in individual business streams, policy changes to put to management, equality issues, training, various measures relating to personal case support, reasonable adjustments and more.

Many of these decisions will not have large or obvious effects, often being implemented ‘behind the scenes’ but they will give members greater protection, help the union to challenge procedures which serve only to cause stress and hassle, and mean that the demands PCS takes to management come direct from the membership.

What is important is that members continue to speak to reps and raise issues that the union needs to take on, both nationally and locally. Conference is the supreme decision-making body of the union, but once the decisions are made the real work is following that up at the coal face.


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