PCS union reps and members at Paisley Jobcentre walked out on 24 April. Following an outbreak of Covid-19 in their office, they reached an agreement allowing staff to go home with the office closed for 72 hours. (See 'Civil servants in Paisley protest after Covid outbreak' at socialistparty.org.uk)
Union reps at Paisley acted decisively to protect themselves and their members. They correctly determined that the health and safety of members was paramount, and collectively refused to work in a workplace they deemed unsafe.
But had they relied on advice and a lead from the union nationally, they would have been disappointed and still waiting.
A PCS Briefing, "Coronavirus - can employees refuse to attend the work place", has been recently issued. At the end of a lengthy cataloguing of bits of legislation on health and safety, the briefing concludes with a statement bereft of guidance and leadership: "This briefing provides general information about statutory rights which are available to all employees in the UK. We are not advising you to do, or refrain from doing, anything." In other words, sort it out yourself - leaving members and activists to their fate.
The incident at Paisley highlighted the need to secure arrangements which give better protection to members.
Other areas have successfully achieved this. For example a 'serious incident protocol' has been negotiated in HMRC. It has forced the closure of several HMRC buildings for periods of up to a week. The DWP PCS executive committee should negotiate a similar or better agreement for our members, and the national executive committee should try to get a similar or improved agreement to cover all our workplaces.
Broad Left Network members were active in the Paisley Jobcentre demand for a safe workplace, and in the action supporting this demand. We have no hesitation in recommending reps follow their example.
PCS should demand of management that they make all the workplace adjustments needed to ensure workers safety. These include:
Where demands are not met to the satisfaction of reps and members, a car park meeting should be held (with proper social distancing arrangements in place), to agree collectively how to respond. Stick together until a solution is agreed and accepted by members. Yes, unity is our strength in these difficult times. A lesson it seems the national leadership of the union has yet to learn. Our members' safety is not for sale.