This piece has been written in response to Conference Paper A submitted by the Group Executive Committee, regarding the ‘offer’ received from Personal Tax Operations over various issues. (Download a copy of the paper in .doc format here.)
The offer put forward does not give enough substantive gains to be supported. Further, much of the bargaining agenda instructed by reps through last year’s emergency summit remains unresolved and there are too many threats hanging over members’ heads for the union to realistically present itself as ‘in agreement’ with management on any level.
The model emergency motion at the end of this piece is for branches to submit in opposition to those made by Conference Paper A. Although we will discuss below what has gone wrong in the past year, from a position critical of the GEC, the model motion has been drafted in the spirit of offering a proactive strategy from this point on rather than simply navel gazing and dwelling on what could have been.
PT Ops in crisis
Firstly, it should be recognised that the issues raised by conference were many and wide ranging. These were added to by a broad assault upon members from the department which made it seem that there were far too many fronts and too many battles for the union to come out unscathed.
In these circumstances, despite the initially slow movement of the GEC as a whole, the PT Ops negotiators should be commended for pulling all of these attacks together into a single agenda and getting organised. Although criticisms need to be raised of the direction that things have taken since that point, these early efforts need to be recognised. As such many-pronged attacks on members are quickly becoming the norm from both the department and the government, the ability to build a bargaining agenda from what members demand at workplace meetings in such a rapid turnaround is definitely something we need to retain and build upon.
The result of this was a bargaining agenda built around the following issues:
- Annual Leave
- Working Patterns
- FLM Workload
- Enquiry Centres
- Terms and Conditions
However, since that agenda was established, all the momentum and impetus built up to that point since drained away. Negotiators disappeared behind closed doors with management and, while periodic updates were issued, it seemed for a long time that any possibility of campaigning to advance demands had been swallowed up by an infinite cycle of talks and the demand for talks when talks failed.
Conference Paper A states that “Whilst we accepted the offer of negotiations we also continued our organising strategy in the background, collecting Commix information and commissioning campaigning material should the talks break down.” However, there was no indication of this latter point since the event of talks breaking down was only ever met with a sternly worded letter asking for more talks. The hope that we would progress to a dispute where we were making no progress faded away as, for example, talks over leave continued on even after members had muddled through Christmas with the contested restrictions in place and local reps having to fire fight by dealing with how this was managed in the office.
It is telling that Enquiry Centres, though listed as part of the agenda in BB 284/13, has been omitted from Conference Paper A. Although of course the decision on closures has now happened, when the Emergency Summit took place it was still very much a live issue. Its omission reflects the lack of consistent attention it was given, the campaign picked up sporadically only when the union felt that it needed to look busy.
The Jobs and Staffing Campaign
As Conference Paper A points out, the PT Ops staffing crisis has now expanded to encompass the whole department. As such, there is a need to make sure that a dispute is not limited to one business stream when it affects the whole of HMRC. However, it is a concern that disputes were avoided in the name of ‘utility’ for a wider campaign which itself has also yet to produce any concrete action and which at any rate wasn’t even on the cards during 2013 as the issues with PT Ops were boiling over.
It remains a fact that PT Ops are still the business stream most likely to cut further jobs in the next couple of years. It is also bizarre to rule out long term action in Contact Centres, for example, when for the first time ever there is the go ahead to consider utilising a levy from members elsewhere to maintain such action.
As this year rolls on, it is clear that we will have to deal with both HMRC wide problems and ones confined to PT Operations. As such, the union will need to ensure that it is in a position so that, while our approach in PT Ops doesn’t hamper what we’re doing more widely, our agenda across HMRC as a whole doesn’t frustrate the union in PT Ops by the same token. The need to ‘balance’ these two things informs the recommendations laid out at the end of this paper.
The ‘Final Offer’
On 11 March, PCS received what it is calling a ‘final offer’ from PT Ops on the bargaining agenda from the Emergency Summit.
Since then, the lead negotiators have refused to share this offer with the national Customer Ops reps committee which had previously been a main line of contact between PT Ops members and the GEC. They have done this, in the view of a significant number of that committee, because it wants the ‘offer’ to be accepted and that committee has been the main voice telling the GEC that the department’s position was not good enough.
Whatever the reason, the offer has instead come to Conference. But it remains not good enough to be accepted, for a host of reasons. Not the least of these is that we are not dealing with a formal offer worthy of the name, only a letter from management making a lot of insubstantial assurances.
On the offer as a whole, it should be noted that:
- It does not cover even half of the bargaining agenda set out by the Emergency Summit;
- As many of the issues in that bargaining agenda have now progressed to HMRC-wide issues, saying that we are in ‘agreement’ in PT Ops while being in dispute over the same matters across the department is contradictory;
- An assurance in writing from management is something we can use in negotiations, but having it in writing is all that is needed and without any concrete gains it is not enough to constitute a binding agreement. The Enabling Agreement of 2012, and the assurances made then which have all since been broken, is a case in point on this front.
Further, taking each of the headlines of the ‘offer’ in turn:
- Although an improvement on the previous imposition, the position on leave still falls short of EM7 in terms of percentages allowed through the year;
- The difference between allowances in telephony and non-telephony sites still needs addressing – with the aim that the former is raised to the standard of the latter – and further the fact that the line is drawn over whether a site is ‘telephony enabled’ offers too much potential for a future detriment by default given the department’s commitment to making all sites telephony enables as part of its ONE PT project;
- The effect of detrimental changes around banked leave and anticipated leave on the already hampered ability of members to take their full leave allowances remains to be seen;
- As the arrangements outlined are already in operation, there is no need to rubber stamp them with an agreement – especially given the concerns outlined above.
Working Pattern Changes in Contact Centres
- Whilst we should of course be mitigating the impact of detrimental changes while they are happening, we should not build an agreement around this. Any agreement around work patterns should be based on a return to 1 in 8 Saturdays (except in cases where other arrangements are preferential for individuals) or an even further reduction in unsocial working rather than how an increase in unsocial working is managed.
Changes to “flexi” schemes
- The insistence on a ‘without prejudice’ basis to an already insubstantial guarantee on not attacking flexi essentially offers us nothing.
Contact Centre Mutual Flexible Working (MFW)
- This represents a step backwards, given that MFW was set to be rolled out before management reneged and there will now only be an ‘evaluation’;
- While this might be possible to progress to the point where MFW is once again set to be rolled out, we would hope the negotiators are set to pursue this anyway and do not need to tie the union into a potentially detrimental and at best insubstantial deal to do so.
Building One PT Operations
- There is nothing on offer here. Consulting and negotiating with PCS over potential changes which affect our members should be standard practice rather than offered as some kind of gain.
The MIS Agreement
- While the guarantee of no changes to the MIS Agreement is welcome, the suggestion that ‘There is a strong link between the One PT Ops visual management project strand and the agreement’ is concerning as this suggests that MIS as practiced in Contact Centres will be rolled out across PT Ops. This will be a detriment to most PT Ops members.
Grading | Front Line Manager (FLM) Workloads | Industrial Relations
- Again, discussions and not making changes until discussions are complete should be the norm. Management are trying to present business as usual industrial relations as an extraordinary courtesy on their part and it isn’t.
In short, Conference Paper A gives PCS members in PT Operations nothing substantive in terms of the demands that members put forward via workplace meetings and through their reps at the Emergency Summit. Whatever the phrase ‘responding dynamically’ might mean, the demands put forward by members at Conference on these issues have not been achieved and we cannot present ‘jam tomorrow,’ as it has been labelled, as a win in any sense.
Model emergency motion to Conference
That this Revenue & Customs Group Conference agrees that Conference Paper A gives PCS members in PT Operations nothing substantive in terms of the demands that members put forward via workplace meetings and through their reps at the Emergency Summit.
Further, as many of the issues in that bargaining agenda have now progressed to HMRC-wide issues, Conference believes that saying that we are in ‘agreement’ in PT Ops while being in dispute over the same matters across the department is contradictory.
Therefore Conference does not endorse the offer detailed in Conference Paper A.
Conference agrees that the PT Ops bargaining agenda from this point forward should be built around the following demands:
- The all-year-round 30% leave allowance laid out in EM7 at GDC13 should provide the baseline for future annual leave allowances;
- Future working patterns in Contact Centres should at least reverse the imposed increase in unsocial working and ideally reduce it even further;
- There shall be no detrimental changes to FWH schemes whatsoever, and if there is any push for uniformity it should be on the basis that the aspects of existing schemes most advantageous to workers should be extended to all staff on FWH;
- MFW should not fade away in the eternal limbo of reviews and evaluations but the PCS-endorsed version should be rolled out to all staff within the year;
- The MIS agreement should be enhanced and expanded to improve the working lives of Contact Centre members;
- Those PT Ops members who are moved to telephony work or TIP sites should not lose entitlements such as full flexi or non-telephony leave allowances, and where such entitlements have already been lost they should be restored.
In pursuit of these demands, as well as other demands which arise through events or other Conference resolutions, the Conference instructs the GEC to:
- Ensure that where areas of dispute are HMRC wide, PT Ops-specific concerns and demands on these areas are fed into the Jobs & Staffing Campaign;
- Ensure that no agreement is reached on any area in PT Ops while it remains in dispute in the Group as a whole;
- Utilise campaigning material and activity as a way to galvanise members and put further pressure on the department whilst negotiations are ongoing rather than waiting until talks are concluded;
- Coordinate PT Ops-specific talks and campaigning with other bargaining areas and the Group as a whole to ensure both that our approach in PT Ops doesn’t hamper what we’re doing HMRC-wide, our agenda across HMRC as a whole doesn’t frustrate action in PT Ops where necessary;
- Reinvigorate communication and consultation with members by encouraging the use of regular workplace meetings to gauge members’ opinions and willingness to act, and by ensuring that the relevant national reps committees are fully informed and able to provide feedback at all times.