On Tuesday 7th June, PCS members in HMRC offices across the UK walked out from 4pm-5pm, in protest at the ‘attendance management’ policy that was recently imposed. The following day, we started work at 10am and then walked out from 11.30am-1.30pm for a mass extended lunch break.
A PCS member in HMRC
This policy can be seen as a cynical attempt by HMRC management to make it easier to sack people. It reduces the number of absences a member of staff can have before their line manager has to consider ‘discussing concerns’ with them from 5 separate occasions and/or 10 days per annum, to 3 separate occasions and/or 5 days per annum. This can, technically, lead to staff having formal action taken against them after just 4 days off sick.
Leslie Strathie (CEO), argues that HMRC has the highest sickness absence in the civil service, but HMRC also came 103rd out of 103 government departments to work for in the last staff survey. Over the last few years, because of massive cuts in staff, incompetent management, oppressive working conditions and other indignities, the department has been in meltdown, with various major fiascos such as millions of wrong tax codes being issued and well over a million unsuspecting people having being found to be underpaid and receiving letters. The sheer amount of upset to the public these events, among others, have caused has naturally led staff to be stressed. A recent stress survey in my office yielded extremely poor results.
A majority for strike action was originally gained in early April. However, action was put on hold for 2 months while the HMRC PCS group GEC (group executive committee) negotiated with management. These talks brought some improvements, but management are holding firm on the 3 absence/5 day rule, which is completely unacceptable.
Socialist Party members visited HMRC offices in Leeds and Bradford to offer support to workers taking part in the strikes. However, the action was marred by a complete lack of organisation after people walked out on Tuesday, with most people simply going home without any opportunity to really gauge the strength of the workforce in action. On the Wednesday, whilst action in Bradford was limited to a small picket line outside one of the offices, a successful meeting was held with staff at the office in Leeds, with over 20 attending, allowing activists to discuss the issues around the dispute, something that could and should be replicated at other offices in the future.
Organisational problems aside, the action has sent a clear message to management that we are not prepared to accept such harsh conditions. No one in the world can avoid being ill from time to time. When working conditions have clearly being a contributor in someone being absent, it is doubly shameful for HMRC to impose a policy like the one described above in such an opportunistic manner.
We are now refusing to work overtime, use private vehicles for work purposes and not cutting any corners in our duties. We have taken a firm stand, and now need to build on this in the struggles ahead.