Staff members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) at the UK motor trade industries Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) headquarters in Swansea, Wales, started a four-day strike this week after the union asked its 3,300 members to vote at ballot in March supporting strike action protesting against Covid-19 safety measures within the organisation “to protect workers’ safety”.
The PCS Union spokesperson said staff at the DVLA in Swansea are “scared to go to work”, over concerns regarding Covid-19 as many of the organisation’s sites have seen over 500 Covid cases since September 2020.
Public Health Wales declared a Covid-19 outbreak at the DVLA’s contact centre in December 2020, following more than 350 cases on site. Along with their headquarters in Swansea the agency employs more than 6,000 people, a spokesman for the agency said it had followed Welsh government Covid guidance “at every single point”.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the lowest paid staff were instructed to attend the office while senior managers stayed home, adding: “It’s really a scandal.”
He followed on to say, “the DVLA has had more Covid cases than any other workplace in the whole of the United Kingdom, over 600 cases. Sadly, there has been a fatality and, even in recent weeks, we have seen people contacted at work and we have seen cases break out at work. None of this is necessary because every other UK civil service department has a majority of people working from home, yet the DVLA insists on 2,500 people going to work every single day, and we believe that is not safe.”
DVLA union branch secretary, Sarah Evans, said speaking to BBC Wales, “They are being forced to take this action for the sake of not just their own health and safety, but the safety of their family and their work colleagues. They don’t feel the DVLA are taking their health and safety seriously.”
Since the lack of urgency to reduce the number of workers on site, progress has now been made between the two parties following ongoing talks, with more talks planned over the coming months.
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There have been no new confirmed Covid cases since the 24th of March 2021, and over 200 staff were still going into the office. However, desks have now been removed to free up more space inside the building, risk assessments are being revised and 300 staff members have since been asked to work from home.
One spokesperson from the DVLA said: “The safety of our staff is paramount, and we have continuously adapted our measures over the past year and will continue to do so. There is currently not a single member of staff in the 10-day isolation period, out of a workforce of more than 6,000.”
Travel in and out of Wales is still restricted and working from home is advised by the government, however, people can go in to work if this is not possible. Employers must make every effort to ensure that the risk of spreading infection is kept to a minimum and demonstrate a business need for a workplace to remain open.
Though motor insurance companies and other parts of the motor trade industry are currently open for business, the DVLA has warned paper applications for driving licences will be delayed due to this strike action which may eventually impact on other sectors of the motor trade industry.