ARC response to PCS articles
ARC’s response to recent PCS articles on Covid-19
Colleagues, unfortunately we have to write to you regarding an article that has appeared on the PCS website that has not only deliberately misrepresented the position of ARC, but has done so on an issue that should be beyond such cheap point scoring tactics.
Following the publication of the article we approached PCS, requesting the article be withdrawn and offering a dialogue to resolve any differences. Unfortunately, the attempts to resolve this situation were rejected. As a result we have no choice but to set the record straight with ARC members.
On April 3rd, ARC representatives attended a scheduled HR policy meeting. The meeting was held the day after it was announced that a second HMRC employed had died and there were suggestions this was COVID -19 related.
At the meeting, which was a general scheduled policy meeting, PCS requested that a discussion be held regarding the safety of Trinity Bridge House in Salford, where one of the employees had worked.
In their update PCS allege;
- ARC objected to the PCS request for a discussion on the tragic death of an HMRC employee in Salford
- ARC opposed the steps PCS were proposing in relation to the Salford building saying “the sad fact that a person died, doesn’t change the fact that procedures are being followed”
By way of introduction, they also describe ARC as “the senior civil servants union”. This either demonstrates that they do not understand the grading system in HMRC or are doing so for effect, presumably to try to suggest ARC are in league with management.
We want to take each of these allegations individually.
Firstly, in relation to the issue being discussed, ARC and HMRC management suggested that the scheduled HR meeting was not the appropriate place to discuss the important Health and Safety issues relating to Salford. No one on the call from HMRC was qualified to discuss the detail required or had an ability to respond to the issues that would be raised.
It was agreed that a subsequent meeting be held with the appropriate team from HMRC who could respond to concerns being raised. That meeting was in fact held later the same day.
To characterise this as ARC objecting to the issue being raised is a deliberate misrepresentation of the discussion for effect. ARC does, and always has, taken the issues of health and safety as paramount, even more so during this public health emergency, which is demonstrated by our desire to ensure that any discussion of the issues could be dealt with appropriately by HMRC.
Secondly, we had a broad ranging discussion on the steps taken by HMRC. We discussed the deep clean of the building that had taken place following the diagnosis of a member of staff as suffering from COVID-19. ARC sought assurances that HMRC were following the guidance for how to deal with non-NHS premises.
ARC requested details of sick absence for the building to identify whether that would indicate whether further steps should be taken. This was not available and HMRC agreed to provide it as soon as possible. PCS clearly wanted to go further. They demanded that the office be closed and that staff be placed in isolation as they believed there was “an immediate threat to life”.
They were unhappy that we did not support a similar demand or share a view of the level of threat. In the course of the meeting they even suggested our position would be different if it had been an FDA member who died. This outrageous statement was challenged in the meeting but unfortunately characterised the approach of PCS if we did not simply agree with them.
No one from ARC made the comment quoted in the PCS article which has been constructed for effect. We had a genuine disagreement on how to proceed on an issue which every union is rightly concerned about. To try to portray this in the cavalier way that PCS have done is frankly outrageous. We did not formally complain about their comments in the meeting as we recognise this is an emotive subject.
There was no formal note of the meeting but we have since contacted HMRC management regarding the PCS article. They have confirmed that the article does not convey the accuracy of the conversation or what was being discussed in its entirety. They agree that the direct quote attributed to ARC is inaccurate.
We want to be clear with members, we do not dispute the right of PCS to raise their concerns and take a different approach to ARC. We cannot accept however, that where there are differences of view, they are characterised in such a way as to give a false impression about ARC’s position and to do so for the purposes of cheap point scoring.
The General Secretary has today written to the PCS General Secretary to again request that the article be removed and that the priority should be to find a common approach to these issues and where this is not possible, for each union to respect the others different approach.
Finally, I want to assure you how seriously we take these issues. We have, since the outbreak first started, been raising concerns over the health and safety of members with HMRC, employers across the civil service and the Cabinet Office. We have also raised these directly with Government through the Public Services Forum which brings together representatives of all the public services trade unions.
If you have any concerns then please do not hesitate to get in touch.