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.