Union officials and MPs have voiced concern over the Government’s handling of a long-running dispute over Covid-related safety at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), claiming the Department for Transport (DfT) intervened to prevent an agreement to end the row.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union has written to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps asking for an explanation.
Union members at the DVLA office in Swansea have launched a series of strikes as part of a campaign for more safety measures to be taken, including a reduction in the number of staff expected to work at the site.
Further industrial action is planned.
The DVLA insists it has followed official guidance and is doing all it can to keep staff safe.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said in his letter to Mr Shapps there had been a “huge shift” in the direction of negotiations, adding: “The only deduction we can make, given that the agreement had been drawn up with DVLA and DfT officials, is that it was withdrawn on your direction.
“I urge you to put the nearly completed agreement back on the table.”
Mr Serwotka said the union had been left with no choice but to proceed with industrial action.
SNP MP Chris Stephens, who chairs the union’s parliamentary group, has also written to Mr Shapps, saying: “It had appeared hopeful that a deal between the union and management had been agreed which would resolve this satisfactorily.
“But now we understand that, far from acting in a positive way, ministerial interference is now being cited as the reason for the sudden – and otherwise seemingly inexplicable – withdrawal of the agreement.”
A DVLA spokesman said: “It’s disappointing to see the Public and Commercial Services union choosing to continue with industrial action and targeting services that will have the greatest negative impact on the public, including some of the more vulnerable people in society, just as restrictions are starting to ease.
“We have been negotiating in good faith and will continue to do so with the aim of finding a workable solution.
“The safety of our staff is paramount and since the beginning of the year we have implemented weekly Covid testing for everyone, hired more than 30 new cleaners to maintain hygiene standards and installed thermal imaging cameras to carry out temperature checks on people entering the building. We have also removed 300 desks from our headquarters and utilised space in a newly leased building to further assist with social distancing measures.
“As these measures have been implemented, we have worked closely with Public Health Wales along with Swansea Environmental Health and the Health and Safety Executive, who have conducted regular site visits and inspections and have repeatedly confirmed a high level of compliance with control measures.
“Millions of people right across the UK are relying on essential DVLA services and PCS’s demands will cause significant and unnecessary disruption to families and businesses, all at a time when they are most needed.”
DVLA said it currently has two positive cases out of a workforce of more than 6,000.