In the latest update on jobs in Benefits & Credits, there is a section which discusses the latest exercise in privatising HMRC – the euphemistic Error and Fraud ‘Adding Capacity’ (EFAC) exercise:
Following on from last years [sic] trial B&C are going ahead with a live date (currently) 1 September of involving a private sector company Consentrix [sic] to deliver error and fraud work in B&C. This is expected to last until July 2017.
PCS have reiterated our opposition to this, preferring to have a proper fully resourced department to deliver this work, and are currently writing to management outlining our proposals as per instructed in motions 26 and 27 of R&C Group Conference 2014.
The private company are externally recruiting 650 staff, 330 who are currently undergoing training and another 320 who will commence training on 1 September.
All staff will have CRB checks (at the moment 240 of the original 330 have them) and management have assured us that no one without the relevant security checks will have access to HMRC details.
The local branch in Northern Ireland are currently carrying out H&S checks on the building that staff will work in during the project particularly to protect around 45 HMRC staff acting as mentors and floorwalkers.
Although PCS is opposed to the project we do recognise that we have an obligation to ensure that workers in Concentrix are organised and recruited to PCS in order to protect themselves and our members. We will be working with the commercial sector, the HMRC organiser and local branches to determine the best way of achieving this while maintaining our opposition to privatisation of public services as a concept.
We would agree wholeheartedly that those being drafted in via private sector recruitment need to be organised. The intent behind outsourcing is always to create a two-tier workforce and use those brought in to undercut and replace in-house staff, even when the bosses adamantly insist that this is not the case. Organising is the answer to that, with all workers standing together to reject a race to the bottom and bring everyone up to the best possible conditions.
However, the question still needs to be asked whether we could be doing more to actively oppose privatisation than simply reaffirming it in writing.
Specifically, there is the privatisation policy established at Conference in 2013:
Conference instructs the Group Executive Committee to adopt a policy of absolute non-cooperation with all privatisation and outsourcing exercises. In all cases, the GEC should build a campaign around the following demands:
- Investing the monies made available for any tendering exercise into the direct recruitment of HMRC staff;
- An immediate end to the tenure of whichever companies are involved;
- Bringing outsourced staff “in-house,” subject to HMRC pay and conditions.
To achieve these demands, campaigning should be inclusive of – but not limited to – the following means:
- The organisation and recruitment of private sector staff;
- Publicity campaigns and political lobbying;
- Protests aimed at the private companies involved;
- Industrial action – including that which seeks to involve the private sector staff.
Clearly, this has not been done. No demands were made to the employer during the tendering exercise and there is no suggestion that bringing the outsourced staff in-house is an aim for the GEC. Equally importantly, there has been no publicity campaign or protest.
This is not the first time that we have mentioned such action. Direct action campaigning has scored notable victories – examples include communication blockades and pickets forcing companies to drop unpaid work programmes, winning tenants their deposits back, winning unpaid wages for sacked staff, and forcing the Co-operative to drop ATOS as its occupational health provider.
On top of which, the privatisation which has taken place in HMRC has incredible publicity generating potential. We know already that the EFAC trial has previously been the cause of great stress to members of the public, as demonstrated by the discussions that it provoked on Mumsnet. If only the union was publicising it with the same vigour as it did the defeated sell off plans for the Land Registry, it could create a storm which would embarrass and put considerable pressure on the department and its prospective providers.
Given the resources at the union’s disposal, in theory it should be able to create as much disruption and negative PR as any of the small protest groups behind the examples cited earlier. Moreover, it has a democratic mandate to do precisely that. So the question is, why are we so unwilling to use all of the tools at our disposal?
Answers on the back of a postcard.