Category Archives: Fixed Term

HMRC pulls out of dispute resolution talks

PCS responds to HMRC Chief Executives intranet message.

Earlier briefings have described the serious and considered decisions taken by the R&C Group Executive Committee in seeking progress on the issues arising from the jobs and staffing campaign. Members will be aware that we took the initiative in pursuit of that progress by suspending our campaign of industrial action short of a strike for a period of four weeks from 8th October.

Three meetings have since taken place and a fourth was scheduled for 10.00am today. At this morning’s meeting, held in Salford, we were hoping to receive the first of several written offers which would have included details of enhanced compulsory redundancy avoidance measures among other important industrial matters.

It is therefore with regret that we are able to confirm that the employer’s side have informed us that they no longer wish to participate in discussions which were progressing towards their stated aim of working “constructively with [PCS] to address the many challenges we face as a Department”.

The Chief Executive’s detailed intranet message, which appeared a few short minutes after our meeting broke up, contains a number of inaccuracies and misleading statements. She claims to want to avoid “a war of words” but the decision to publicly withdraw from what have been, up until this point, relatively productive talks and criticise the union with such hostility cannot be viewed as anything other than a declaration of intent on behalf of the employer.

The message goes on to say: “In this month’s Oracle, [PCS] say that their recent strike action in Dundee led to HMRC offering permanent positions to 39 people on fixed term contracts. This simply isn’t true. In fact we worked hard, as we always said we would, to secure permanent roles for nearly 1,400 FTAs right across the UK who wanted to stay with us. Those 39 FTAs would have been offered alternative roles anyway – the threat of PCS strike action made no difference.”

The truth is that we have already acknowledged that the 2,100 jobs secured on the 25th of June was a welcome consequence of our Jobs and Staffing campaign. However, what Lin chooses not to say is that the location of those jobs – determined without any recourse to or dialogue with PCS – left hundreds of FTAs at risk of redundancy, including all of those in Dundee and at other sites where no vacancies were created. Furthermore, the CEO’s claim that the prospect of action in Dundee made no difference does not stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny.

In order to fulfil its statutory requirements under redundancy legislation, HMRC was obliged to meet with PCS regularly from 90 days in advance of the termination date of the FTA’s contracts. Despite PCS raising the issue in every fortnightly meeting, which we can be evidenced by the published minutes from these meetings, no solution was neither offered nor provided by HMRC until 10:46am on 15 September. At that precise time – 76 minutes before members in Sidlaw House, Dundee were poised to take the action demanded by 95.8% of members in an office ballot – we received an email advising that jobs had been found in the DWP for those wishing to continue their employment with the civil service and that: “In order for these negotiations to progress to a successful conclusion for all parties, I am formally requesting that PCS call off the intended industrial action in Dundee this week. We are all working hard to ensure we do everything possible to identify suitable jobs for those who want them and how this is handled in Dundee is important to maximise the likelihood of success with these and similar discussions.”

Like any reasonable trade union PCS agreed to suspend the action as requested by HMRC. The chronology is straightforward: HMRC announce redundancies; HMRC fail to take adequate steps to prevent unwanted redundancies; HMRC fail to communicate the steps being taken to avoid redundancies; PCS ballot members in Dundee; HMRC find a solution to avoid unnecessary redundancies 76 minutes before members take action; PCS calls off the action. Those developments are accurately reported in the latest edition of Oracle which ExCom appear to have taken exception to.

Homer goes on to say: “All we want is a union that is prepared to engage with us on the basis of mutual trust. We don’t expect to agree on everything – but if we’re to resolve this dispute, PCS do need to make an effort to meet us part way.”

It is curious that the employer should choose these words to portray PCS as being unreasonable and lacking in trust. Again, the facts suggest quite a different conclusion.

On October 1, in the first meeting in advance of the formal talks on Jobs and Staffing, entered into by PCS following the suspension of our democratic mandate for industrial action, commencing a week later, the department’s negotiating team opened discussions by stating three things:

1)     Office closure and redundancies would be announced whilst the talks were taking place but the details could not be shared in advance with the union

2)      HMRC planned to announce the formal commencement of consultation aimed at ending check-off, the system whereby PCS pays the employer to deduct trade union subscription fees directly from wages

3)      HMRC wanted PCS to make an allocation of facilities time to our representatives based on 0.1% of paybill, and that this would mean that senior representatives and entire branches of the union would have no time to perform their duties until April 2015.

Despite this extreme provocation and bad faith, PCS did not walk away from the talks, maintaining the trust which the CEO takes so seriously and we continued to approach the negotiations with an open mind, working towards a long-term solution which would provide HMRC and PCS with a framework for engagement over all of the aspects of our Jobs and Staffing campaign and the future strategic direction of the department. We planned to present the outcome of those talks to our Group Executive Committee on November 12 for decision.

Contrast that with the behaviour of HMRC today, who have chosen to unilaterally and without prior notice walk away from those talks over a disagreement on the wording of an article in the union magazine.

Clearly, the message on the intranet today was not written in haste, and will be considered by some to form part of a wider, covert strategy to undermine workers in HMRC by directly attacking your union.

Lin Homer states that: “we’ll always remain open to talking with anyone who’s prepared to listen to our side of the discussion.” This is a commitment we fully intend to test at a scheduled meeting with her and her senior colleagues on 10th November and which we have been reassured remains in her diary despite today’s developments.

PCS remains willing to listen to HMRC and also to give our members’ side of the discussion.

We encourage all branches to share this briefing with members, step up the efforts to transfer members over to direct debit and continue to recruit new members to PCS.

Only together can we expose the employer’s true intentions and best protect the interest of members.

Lorna Merry – Group President
Peter Middleman – Group Secretary

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GEC response to Chief Executive’s Letter

Members will no doubt have noted the communication issued by the Chief Executive yesterday (28 July). This Briefing is our response on behalf of the Group Executive Committee.

It is regrettable that the only method of communication between the employer and the union in the week running up to an avoidable strike is the public exchange of messages (especially when the employer denies us the opportunity to communicate with our members using the GSI system). For the avoidance of doubt, HMRC is refusing to meet with us – a point they have confirmed in writing.

After the strikes this week, we will be writing again to HMRC with positive proposals for dealing maturely with the issues which remain very important to our members and which form the basis of the trade dispute.

Until then, and as it seems to be in vogue to respond to an industrial crisis with a Q&A rather than meaningful talks designed to avoid a strike, we thought we would have a go ourselves. Attached to this Briefing therefore is an alternative view to that expressed by the Chief Executive which we hope you find helpful.

Why are we striking?

The short answer is that the intellectual rigour of our arguments against demonstrably damaging staff cuts, discredited performance management systems and an apparent obsession with costly privatisations appear to cut no ice with HMRC. Any reasonable employer would have recognised that PCS has been proved right time and time again on the matters at the basis of the dispute and taken our legitimate concerns on board. In the absence of any attempt to do so, we’ve been forced to call the strike to highlight the lack of logic in the departments approach.

 Why target the Tax Credit and Self-Assessment deadlines?

The alternative would be to strike when nobody would notice. Our approach in HMRC, as in the Passport Office and elsewhere, is to rely on the leverage available to us in highlighting how a department in chaos can be put in danger of missing important targets because there are too few staff to get the job done properly. We understand that the decision has already been made at senior levels in the department to extend the deadlines for at least three days and we look forward to ExCom confirming this.

What about vulnerable customers?

Forgive us if we disregard the crocodile tears being wept about the impact on low paid families. Up to 40% of our members rely on Tax Credits to top-up insufficient wages imposed by the government and their willing accomplices in departments such as HMRC. Those same members are working flat out to paper over the enormous cracks in the department that have opened up since senior managers started gleefully cutting tens of thousands of jobs. While we’re at it, where was the concern for customers when 281 walk-in Tax Enquiry Centres were closed by ExCom despite our opposition?

Will the strike make any difference?

Of course, there are no guarantees. We are disappointed that rather than continue negotiations up to the latest available opportunity, HMRC metaphorically “took their ball home” a full week ago and have refused to talk to us since. However, recent history shows that with a determined membership behind us, the union can make gains. Most notably, our colleagues in the Land Registry scored a significant victory earlier this month by stopping a planned privatisation in its tracks following a strike campaign based on leverage similar to ours. In HMRC, the campaign has so far secured at least 2,100 permanent jobs – a point which both sides should welcome even if the Chief Executive chooses to underplay our role in contributing to.

Why are they refusing to talk to the union?

It’s a tactic we are seeing more of and it has its roots at the heart of the government front benches. They hate unions because we stand in their way of a race to the bottom that results in low pay, insecure jobs and fewer employment rights. Our response has to be that we fight back, for the sake of ourselves, our colleagues and the next generation of HMRC staff who will inherit the terms and conditions that we leave behind.

What happens after the strike?

Well, HMRC will probably respond first by trying to portray support for the strikes as diminishing. This will include counting members of staff on summer holiday, off sick and those, for example on maternity leave, as “not on strike”. For our part, we will be writing to the employer again as soon as the strike is over in an attempt to re open talks designed to settle the dispute.

Does the HMRC Q&A accurately reflect the rules around picketing?

No. We look forward to welcoming as many supporters as possible to our picket lines (not including the highly paid managers who increasingly seem to spend their time monitoring entirely peaceful pickets from lobbies, security lodges and the wrong side of the gate).

Do I have to record my participation in the strike using online HR?

We were advised verbally by HMRC last week that it would be sufficient to “tell your line manager” about your participation. We have asked them to confirm this to allow us to advise members using the internal gsi  e-mail system. They haven’t responded and only a cynic would suggest that they are deliberately making life difficult for members.

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Jobs & Staffing Campaign – Further Action Called

Following a decision by the GEC last week, PCS has served a new notice of industrial action  in HMRC which means we are asking members to take a further full day of instrustrial action next week in pursuit of demands at the basis of the dispute. The action will be rolled over three days with different regions involved on different days around the peak in work anticipated on Tax Credits and Self Assessment.

The action will be staged as follows:

Wednesday 30th July: North West England and Wales
Thursday 31st July: Scotland and Midlands
Friday 1st August: Northern (inc. Cumbria, Yorkshire & Humber, Eastern, London & South East, South West & Northern Ireland.

We urge all to support the campaign on the 30th to ensure our negotiators in PCS are in the strongest position to win concessions on the various issues we are campaigning to improve, including staffing, job security, personnel management and privatisation.

To ensure that you are kept up to date on all issues that affect your branch, please ensure we have your email address by sending us an email at confirming your name and department.

Please also ensure your contact details are up to date on the national PCS website

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MB/21/14 advised members that PCS had called action over the employers’ flexible resourcing programme.

Members have told us in no certain terms that they do not support the employers’ latest attempt to mask the impact of their careless and arbitrary cuts by pulling thousands of staff away from their normal duties, such as tackling non-compliance, to answer calls in Contact Centres and “pop-up” centres around the UK.

PCS Conference voted unanimously to reject this approach. Members have also voted yes for action and to oppose cuts in HMRC and to demand enough staff to do the work properly.

We have therefore asked all members to take action on Flexible Resourcing to expose the staffing crisis in HMRC. As a first step members were asked to submit a letter refusing to volunteer for the flexible resourcing project or withdrawing their agreement to volunteer where they had previously done so.

Since MB/21/14 was issued we have been contacted by members who have reported:

  1. That they have submitted a letter and have now been contacted in writing by their Line Manager
  2. That they have not submitted a letter but have been volunteered by their Line Manager without their consent.

Our advice to members on the next steps to take is as follows:

  1. If a member has not submitted one of the template letters attached to MB/21/14 they must do so as soon as possible.
  2. Where a member has submitted a letter and has received a written response from their Line Manager the letter attached (At Annex A) to this Briefing should be sent to the Line Manager in reply by the deadline date given in the employers’ letter.
  3. We advise members at every grade – including Line Managers – to submit their appropriate letters. We want these issues escalated through the line management chain.
  4. Members are not required to move onto Flexible Resourcing until their concerns have been discussed and the necessary HMRC policy complied with. The letter attached to this briefing is directly linked to the employers own policies and they are obliged to comply with every request set out in the letter.
  5. HMRC cannot move people in a mandatory fashion if it breaches their own policies on health and safety, performance management, training or terms and conditions.
  6. It is important that members are encouraged to tailor the letter as much as possible to their own individual circumstances. Branches are asked to assist members with this task.

PCS calls upon all members to support our campaign of activity around Flexible Resourcing. This action has been called as part of our Jobs & Staffing campaign. It is important to note however that we are not at this stage asking members to boycott the programme and we are explicitly NOT asking members to take any action that could lead to disciplinary action.

We understand that members feel under pressure to demonstrate ‘positive behaviours’ and consequently to volunteer to take on this new work. However we also know that members are angry about being taken away for their own important work and asked to help the employer mask acute staffing shortages that it has made worse this week following the announcement by Lin Homer on Wednesday of yet more job cuts.

We do not believe that HMRC can compel members to move to a new location, or to undertake new work at short notice which they have not been adequately trained or equipped to do and members should resist this.

 Fundamentally however our strength comes not from our contracts of employment, but from standing together and taking action together. When we do this, we can push HMRC back and we can win concessions.

Following the successful week of rolling action across HMRC last week we now need to ensure that we maintain the pressure on the employer and that we continue to highlight the need for investment in more staff in HMRC and an end to job cuts, site closures and an end to the attacks on our terms and conditions of service.

Please support the Jobs and Staffing Campaign – do not help HMRC mask the disastrous impact of its job cuts and inadequate staffing levels

In solidarity

 Lorna Merry                                                                         Paul Barnsley
Group President                                                                 National Officer

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