HM Revenue & Customs has announced that, as part of its wider digitalisation programme, all post into the department will be handled and scanned by a private contractor. This represents yet another attack on the jobs of low paid civil servants, as well as a clear determination to farm out public services to the highest bidder.
HMRC believe that their digital strategy will allow them to shed 18,000 jobs by 2019. It is a particular threat for staff who work in post rooms, processing offices and contact centres at the lower pay grades. Where digitalisation does not take our jobs, it will make them harder by leaving those who survive the cull to switch between different types of work at a moment’s notice to meet the targets of a department for whom crisis management is the norm.
The post scanning announcement means that, from June this year, EDM Group in Wolverhampton will start receiving and scanning post into the department. This will mean that letters can be transferred and worked digitally. It also means that local and regional post rooms will lose the bulk of the work they do by March 2015.
The threat to jobs should be clear in this instance, as should the knock on effects to other staff in terms of workload, stress and morale. The stripping away of offline work in HMRC will also effectively force out people with a disability who cannot work on a computer.
We are not against digitalisation in principle. Advancements in technology can – and should – have a social benefit for all, allowing us to work less hours and have more leisure time, as well as learning new skills and retraining where technology advances. But, under the austerity agenda in particular and capitalism in general, this will not happen and digitalisation is only ever an attack. The move to hand over taxpayers’ money to a for-profit company and to displace or get rid of existing, experienced staff only underlines that point.
Like the recent announcement of office closures, moves to resist this latest decision would fit perfectly within the jobs and staffing campaign. Moreover, on both digitalisation and privatisation, PCS conference has already established policy on how to respond.
We would therefore urge the GEC to adhere to conference policy and press the employer now on this issue. PCS should be demanding that the post scanning work is taken on in-house, using existing staff with re-training where necessary to facilitate this.
Further, the union needs to demand a social benefit from digitalisation in general. Instead of 18,000 lost jobs we want:
- A reduction in working hours with no loss of pay
- Paid sabbaticals
- Full training and skills in IT
- Regular real breaks from work based on the intensity of work
- Redeployment into socially useful areas of work where use of IT means work has disappeared
In support of these demands, and in line with the conference-agreed policy on privatisation, we need an effective, escalating campaign which includes protests and direct action targeted at the privateers of EDM Group as well as at HMRC.
Twice in as many weeks, the department has made the case for us that the union’s Jobs and Staffing Campaign needs to kick into high gear. We would urge all members to share this message, to press the issue with the GEC through your branches and to start to build campaign activity at a local level where you can.