The HMRC Ballot – The One You’ve Been Waiting For

This was originally posted in April before the HMRC ballot was put back to 11th May. Members should have received, or will shortly receive, ballot papers at home.

PCS Revenue & Customs Group have confirmed today that members will be balloted from 11th April for industrial action, calling for:

  • No further job cuts
  • No compulsory redundancies or moves of staff beyond reasonable daily travel;
  • Privatisation trials in contact centres are brought to an immediate end;
  • Consideration points are removed from the attendance management policy.

This is probably the most important ballot Revenue & Customs group members have ever been asked to vote in. This ballot brings together all of the most important issues which face us specifically and, given the jobs we do, Britain’s economy.

No Further Job Cuts

The government has decided that HMRC can do with 10,000 fewer staff. As far as I’m aware this is an arbitrary figure with no published research to indicate it is viable. Those of us who deal with the public already know that we don’t have enough people to do the job the public requires of us. Post sits unanswered, phone calls hang in queues, enquiry centres (when they’re open) have to refer visitors to those phone lines.

We’re a public service, a public service which can take people to court, close businesses and ruin lives when people miss deadlines but we leave pieces of post sitting around for weeks on end or bouncing around Britain from one office to another. None of us like being hypocrites, especially when peoples’ livelihoods are at stake.

We can’t currently function as we should. 10,000 fewer staff really isn’t going to help matters.

No compulsory redundancies or moves of staff beyond reasonable daily travel

This is where the job cuts get personal to PCS members. So far your union has successfully fought compulsory redundancies in HMRC but, with nigh on three million unemployed and few vacancies, how many members are going to take voluntary redundancy now? The previous Labour government attacked our redundancy package to make leaving before we’re pushed marginally more attractive. That’s a useful way to massage the redundancy figures but may remind members of the playground.

“Go now, of your own accord, or we’ll give you less!”

Isn’t that the tactic of the school bully?

‘Give me your lunch money or I’ll kick you in the wotsits and take your lunch money anyway.’

Nobody can afford to be made redundant right now. Whether you go voluntarily or are pushed that redundancy package won’t last long.

The ‘Moves of staff beyond reasonable daily travel’ issue might seem comparatively trivial but it’s actually about office closures. Many of the personal cases Euston Tower branch reps have worked over the last few years have been around reasonable daily travel (RDT) and most have been concluded successfully. Many members who have been moved to Euston Tower are quite rightly angry that their office closed but at least there are other London offices within RDT that they could move to.

That is not the case for many members in offices around the country. The obvious, and most high profile, example is Wick, where PCS reps and members have fought a brilliant campaign to keep an office open where there are no other offices in RDT and very, very limited employment opportunities beyond HMRC. By fighting to keep all members within RDT we are fighting to keep offices open, fighting to give people jobs and fighting to support the local businesses which rely on those HMRC staff.

Privatisation trials in contact centres are brought to an immediate end

It doesn’t matter what HMRC management have planned, the fact is that our government wants to privatise as much as they can. They would rather give £8.6million to people like A4E’s Emma Harrison than put the money in to public services. I believe that every attack that we face is about privatisaion, beit the civil service compensation scheme, pensions, attendance management, Pacesetter…

No member should be under any illusions about this: if they think they can privatise you they will try to. Privatisation has already become entrenched in Debt Management and Banking (DMB) with the debt bar given to Debt Collection Agencies (DCAs) rising as our numbers fall. The DCAs have limited access to our records, leading to taxpayers being chased for debts they no longer owe. The same is true of our own Field Force officers (the HMRC staff who knock on doors) who are now denied the IT access to check cases before going out on call.

Such is the fear of cross-contamination of public service ethic vs private profit ethic that our colleagues in contact centres aren’t even allowed to talk about work with the private sector folk working in the same building.

Privatistion means:

  • Worse terms and conditions
  • Lower pay (the private sector staff in our call centres are on up to £3k less than their HMRC colleagues)
  • Public money being given to shareholders and directors rather than funding the services we should be providing and, as proved by the contact centre trial, the staff doing the job (yes, private or public sector, that’s you.)
  • A race to the bottom for employees and the people who rely on us. Private companies are run for profit: any service they provide is a means to that end. For public sector employees service is all that counts.

Consideration points are removed from the attendance management policy.

Attendance Management might seem like a side order of houmous to the group action kebab but it’s one of the issues I get asked about most. We took industrial action which led to substantially improved guidance (don’t think for one second that the guidance would have been changed without the walk outs) but those consideration points remain. They still place undue pressure on managers, who might have to justify not taking action, and their staff who will take annual leave rather than sick leave if they think they’ll hit a trigger point.

HMRC should trust their managers to make decisions without the need for consideration points. Staff should feel comfortable to call in sick when they are sick.

Another Ballot? What Happened To The last One?

It’s been made clear to the branch and PCS as a whole that members weren’t happy to find that nothing happened after voting for more action over pensions starting on 28th March. There were good reasons for the National Executive Committee’s (NEC) decision which I personally don’t agree with but do understand.

However, this ballot is not about pensions. This ballot is about the future of HMRC. It is about your jobs and it is about your ability to do what you got into this for in the first place: to provide a service to the public.

Privatisation is happening. Office closures are happening. Enquiry Centres are being closed. Compulsory redundancies are on the horizon.

If we don’t fight we lose. We’ve just seen, thanks to Unite members, what can happen when a trade union gets a strong industrial action ballot result. They’ve got their previously intransigent employers to negotiate without even having to take a minute of industrial action.

Trade unions can win stuff but that stuff can only be won with the support and united strength of members.

When your ballot paper arrives make sure you use it. Don’t give the government (which didn’t get a majority) an excuse to say, ‘Only 30% voted’. They are sticking it to you. Take a few seconds to mark your ballot paper to stick it to them.

Vote YES/YES for your job and for public services.

Read MB008 here: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/revenue_and_customs_group/latest-news/index.cfm/id/A6F6389F-57B1-4D17-8F3E50AB7B9A81F4

About: Dave Plummer

Public sector worker, PCS rep, Branch Organiser with PCS R&C Euston Tower Branch, and general branch communications person. Known to strum a guitar on occasion. Member of PCS Left Unity and the Green Party.

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