Tag Archives: R&C/BB/217/14

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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