PCS Bootle Taxes Branch is campaigning for the reinstatement of Iain Yell, one of our members who was dismissed for sickness absence. We are also challenging the broader trend of discrimination against disabled people in HMRC’s sickness policy.
Iain was dismissed for a total of 39 days absence in a little over two years, equating to less than twenty days per year. Since moving from the Contact Centre to Benefits & Credits in 2014, he had just five days of absence in eight months – less than the average sickness level on that section – and yet this was deemed sufficient to take the decision to dismiss him.
We have already launched a petition aimed at Nick Lodge, the director of Benefits & Credits, demanding Iain’s reinstatement. This is in addition to the HMRC appeal process and pursuit of an Employment Tribunal for discrimination arising from disability. There will be further actions as the campaign progresses.
This week, a number of our reps spoke with the Bootle MP Peter Dowd. He has told us that he is keen to challenge HMRC’s discriminatory practices at a parliamentary level, as he believes that this is driven by the Tory government since it fits with their attitudes to disabled people, their attacks on trade unions in the civil service and their agenda to slash jobs in the civil service.
HMRC changed its sickness policy in 2011 in order to reduce the ‘trigger points’ at which managers were prompted to consider taking action over attendance. In 2012, as part of the Cabinet Office-prompted attack on terms and conditions, HMRC reduced the length of time that new starters and staff on promotion would be entitled to full and half pay while off sick.
However, as well as the higher level policy changes, there is also a culture wherein the number of Annual Working Days Lost (AWDL) is seen as being of greater importance than the health and wellbeing of staff. This is more prevalent in some areas than others, but it isn’t limited to a single location or directorate. What it means is that the policy is being applied mechanistically, and disabled people in particular are suffering as they are seen as easy targets to shove out the door.
When this results in claims for discrimination, the department appears to have a blanket policy of refusing to reach a settlement, and will squander vast amounts of public money on fighting Employment Tribunals even where their guilt is clear. And of course while they can do that on your tax money, the government has made it more costly for employees to seek redress from bad employers, so they feel that they can carry on with impunity.
For all of these reasons, HMRC’s discriminatory practices need to be fought. Our branch is campaigning for the reinstatement of a member who has lost his job, but we are also campaigning to challenge the attitudes which if left to fester will only see more and more members put in the exact same position.
Sign the petition
Firstly we would ask everybody to sign the petition calling upon Nick Lodge to intervene and reinstate Iain here.
We would also ask our fellow trade union branches, PCS branches in particular though by no means exclusively, to bring this case and the petition to your members’ attention and ask them to sign.
A paper version of the petition can be downloaded here. We can add paper signatures to the online petition, so please feel free to circulate this and collect more names in your workplace or local community. Scan and email any completed sheets back to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lobby your MP
We would ask PCS branches in HMRC to contact their local MPs as we have done and ask them to challenge this discriminatory behaviour.
Although we used Iain’s case as a starting point for our conversation with Peter Dowd, other branches will no doubt have their own cases that they can raise with their MPs. Not to mention the broader question of how the department is treating disabled people when they are absent as a result of their disability.
If you get a written response, please share this with us at the above email address.
Challenge local management
Another action we would ask of branches in HMRC is to speak to their local senior management for all lines of business in your branch about disability and sickness absence.
How many members of staff have been put on Managing Poor Attendance procedures in 2015/16? How many in 2014/15, 2013/14, 2012/13? How many of these had a disability? What stages did they go through, and how many were dismissed or chose to resign as a result?
If local management isn’t keeping these kind of statistics, then ask them if they could do – and if they could share them with the union. If they aren’t discriminating, then they should have nothing to hide. But this will help us to see trends and disparities across business streams and across locations.
Again, we would be grateful if branches could share this information with us via email.
As this campaign continues, the branch will continue to share updates as well as actions that individuals and other branches can take in support. We are grateful to everyone who has shown their support so far and would ask everyone to continue supporting the campaign and spreading the word.