Staff at one of Wales’ biggest workplaces are to vote on strike action over the “cruel” decision by bosses to make them continue to work from the office despite a major Covid outbreak.
The PCS union has announced it will ballot members working at the DVLA office in Swansea, where one member of staff has died and 500 more have tested positive for the disease since September.
The union’s general secretary, Welshman Mark Serwotka, said the step was being taken because of the “cruel indifference” shown by DVLA management to the fears expressed by staff.
Just 250 of 6,000 staff were working from the office at the beginning of the pandemic, but that number has since increased to over 2,000.
First Minister Mark Drakeford revealed recently that one member of DVLA staff was so “acutely distressed” about working conditions at the office that she phoned him.
Voting will start next Thursday and the ballot will close on March 11, with “spring walkouts” possible without a resolution.
“It is a scandal that DVLA have insisted over 2,000 staff members come into work every day, despite having the biggest outbreak of Covid in an office workplace within the UK,” said Serwotka.
The escalation of the dispute came as Boris Johnson used Prime Minister’s Questions to back the approach taken by DVLA management.
Swansea West MP Geraint Davies asked if Johnson would meet with him and PCS representatives ahead of ballot “so that workplace numbers can be reduced until the vaccine is rolled out to keep people safe and avoid an unnecessary strike.”
But Johnson said: “Thanks to the working from home strategy that the DVLA has been pursuing, of a workforce of 6,000, there are currently only, thankfully only, nine cases to the best of my knowledge, of Covid and three of those individuals are currently working from home.”
The Prime Minister added: “We’re rolling out lateral flow tests, a huge number of lateral flow tests are being distributed to the DVLA.
“But the long term solution, or the medium term solution I should say, is to roll out the vaccination programme and that is what this government is doing in Wales and across the country.”
First Minister Mark Drakeford has raised the issue with the UK Government, which is responsible for the agency, and said he “wasn’t satisfied” with their response.
Speaking in the Senedd this week, deputy housing and local government minister Hannah Blythyn described the situation at the DVLA as “shocking.”
“We will continue to strongly make the case for workers at the DVLA with the UK Government, and we’re also—and make sure, obviously, we’re in close contact with and speaking to the Public and Commercial Services Union,” she said.