Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Home Office PCS: How not to run a dispute!

Guest Post by Owen Dodd

Due to Home Office management indicating that some staff would lose pay for the whole day if they took a half day action on Friday 5th April. It was apparently decided at a Group Officers meeting (which some of the non-LU Officers were allegedly not informed about) that in response to this approach from Management, that escalation of the action was the way forward. 

The members who were potentially subject to this would be asked to sacrifice a whole days pay on Monday 8th instead whilst members in the Identity & Passport Service (IPS), the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) and the Public Enquiry Office (PEO) parts of the Home Office would still take action on the 5th.
The only problem with this decision was that it was taken on Maundy Thursday which meant that the statutory notice had to be served that day as the next 2 weekdays in England and Wales were Bank Holidays.  Unfortunately, when Management threatened an injunction on Tuesday 2nd April it became apparent that this hadn't been done. 

The comrades in LU firstly blamed this on the courier taking the notice home and not delivering it until the Tuesday.  This seemingly changed to 'that the e-mail to the Permanent Secretary didn't get through' although it's been rumoured the correct reason was the mis-spelling of the name of the Head of Employee Relations.
Whatever the correct reason, another Officers meeting took place in the week after Easter (again, it appears that not all the Officers were informed of the meeting) at which the PCS response was supposed to be decided.  However when it was queried why the meeting was discussing 4 days of action, the response was that it was 'imaginative and innovative' action and, as Mark Serwotka had already announced that PCS members in the Home Office would be taking a week of action in w/c 15th April, then it had to be done.  

At some point it was also decided that IPS/DBS members would still be asked to take action on the 5th but PEO members would not, whilst members in Border Force would not be involved in any of the proposed action at the present time plus an 'Emergency Summit' of Branch Chairs and Secretaries to discuss 'Strategy' was to be arranged for 11th April and would be a tele-kit over 3 sessions.
On the 10th, members discovered via a PCS Briefing that it was proposed that action should now be taken over 4 days from 16th to 19th April with different areas taking action on each day - confusion started amongst reps and members.  

The 'Emergency Summit' appeared to have been overtaken by events but went ahead , well almost.  The first two sessions ran reasonably smoothly but the third one, which used exactly the same dial-in numbers as the first two, was abandoned because the Group President, Secretary, Organiser etc, couldn't connect to all the Chairs/Secretaries who had successfully dialled-in.  These things happen but it seems an odd co-incidence that the third session was the one that happened to have a large number of non-LU branches (who might have suggested changes to the strategy) trying to participate!

Confusion set in on the 10th when the strategy became public, and we understand PCS headquarters were inundated with queries around who was out/in on each day.  A briefing was issued on Friday 12th at 7:30pm, when obviously most reps had gone home. It was Monday (the day before the start of the action) before the lack of clarity became apparent when members and reps began querying which team was out when and why some areas weren't being asked to take action.  

Confusion reigned although Management probably helped at this point by publishing which team was out when on the Departmental Intranet!
Tuesday morning and another briefing from PCS for immediate circulation, the 3rd iteration of who was out when and still not entirely clear and reps who were out on the Tuesday had little chance of getting it circulated to members that they hadn't got home e-mail addresses for.
The above sorry tale of probably explains why the level of support on the Tuesday was about 35-40%, dipping to less than 20% on the Weds with some areas below 5% and then plummeting to about 15% on the Thurs before picking up to just over 20% again on the Friday.  The average over the four days seems to have been 20-25% which is not exactly an overwhelming endorsement of the strategy of the current LU leadership
A number of members have commented that, having caused confusion for both themselves and Management by the lack of clarity over who was supposed to be out on which day, 
PCS could have called the action off on Monday 15th having achieved the aim of disrupting the employers business and not cost our members another days pay.  

However, as one experienced rep explained, 'that wouldn't have achieved the LU measure of success i.e. having the strike!'

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