Having been elected as Assistant General Secretary earlier this year, John Moloney formally took up post on 1 July. In line with his election pledge, he donates most of his salary to the union’s Fighting Fund and only takes a worker’s wage. This report covers some of the work he has been doing whilst in receipt of that wage.
Government Estates Strategy (GES)
The GES is going to have an enormous impact upon our union, whether we like it or not. The government wants to dramatically reduce the size of its estate and co-locate Departments in regional Hubs, which presents a broad set of challenges for PCS.
John has made a number of pushes since taking up office to re-establish regular meetings with the Cabinet Office over the GES, which haven’t happened for more than a year. He has also written to the Government Property Agency, the body which will ultimately control all areas of the Estate, to set out the terms on which PCS expects to engage with them, and used Freedom of Information requests in order to map out what the Estate is likely to look like when the GES comes to fruition.
This is only a snapshot, but there is much more to be done. This will include getting to grips with how our structures adapt to the organisational challenges of multi-occupied sites, as well as organising a broader challenge to the GES itself. However, we believe that positive progress is starting to be made and we now have something to build upon.
Health and Safety
PCS’s national health and safety structures have been moribund for several years. John is aiming to revive them, and a health and safety culture more broadly, and work on this has begun in earnest with endorsement from the NEC. John’s office has set up a PCS Facebook page for Health and Safety reps, or PCS reps interested in Health and Safety issues, to begin to engage with our structures and improve communications. They will also establish a quarterly H&S bulletin with engagement from reps determining and building content over time. There will be a national health and safety inspection week in early 2020 – to be used to coordinate inspections, develop best practice, highlight issues and provide guidance for branches, and a national Health and Safety seminar for 28th March 2020.
The NEC will be re-engaging the Cabinet Office concerning the “Whitehall Studies.” These studies show that there is an inverse relationship between grade and health. In broad terms this means the lower the grade, on average the higher the sick rate and death rate. Thus, seemingly neutral measures such as sick trigger points will disproportionately impact the lower grades. The same is true for pension age changes.
John will seek to ensure that there be a health, safety and welfare work stream as part of the new consultation arrangements concerning the GES. He will consult with groups and safety reps to produce model agreements/common aims on health and safety to take to the employer nationally. He will also explore with the Labour front bench draft agreements on national policies concerning health and safety and workers’ rights.
Facilities Management Workers
A big area of work for the union is outsourced Facilities Management (FM) workers on the Government Estate, such as cleaners, caterers, porters, security and so on. The plight of these workers has been pushed into the spotlight by the excellent work that has led to high-profile disputes at HMRC on Merseyside and BEIS and the FCO in London.
John was keen from the start to not impose a strategy from the top down on this area. As such, the papers that have gone to the NEC have been put together in consultation with the lay activists directly involved in this work, whilst the strategy itself was the result of an open discussion by the NEC rather than a closed debate around a pre-determined approach.
The union is extremely limited in that the full-time resources for this area are, frankly, nil. However, as the work on the ground will ultimately fall to branch activists, this does force the NEC to focus on how they develop and extend that lay resource and infrastructure, which will if done right put PCS in a better position.
John also has responsibility for PCS’s Commercial Sector. Broadly speaking, this means the big private companies which provide IT and other support to the Government and its Departments. He has opened up a dialogue with the Commercial Sector about the ways in which they believe that their structure and their relationship to the wider union needs to change, in the hopes that this is something he can ask the NEC to look at.
Working with Mark Serwotka
Since taking up post John has met with Mark, as the incumbent General Secretary, every week. He continues to raise ideas to him and work with him as constructively as possible. This isn’t just because he has known Mark for several decades; it is how he believes the business of the union should be conducted.
During the AGS election campaign, which in some quarters ran the better part of a year, it became apparent that certain parts of the union’s full-time apparatus could not work together. This is, frankly, a nonsense that runs counter to any notion of a rational union. The full-time apparatus exists to serve the lay structures and, primarily, the membership. It cannot do that if it is at war with itself.
John stood for the AGS position as a member of the PCS Independent Left (IL). He remains a member of the IL and as such will be supporting Bev Laidlaw in the General Secretary election. This doesn’t mean that he won’t work with or talk to Mark or, hopefully, vice versa, because that isn’t good for our membership. If asked to choose between a vibrant union democracy where all positions are contested freely and a union where representatives and officials are able to get on and work together, the correct answer is that any rational union is capable of both.
Ways to Improve Our Union
Since taking up office, John hasn’t created an earthquake. However, he has helped to shift the conversation about how our union is run and to improve things where he is able. How we improve our union is a conversation many lay activists are, rightly, engaged in. One of the things that John wants to define his time in post is that he is always open to discussing such ideas, and will do what he can to raise and advance them within the union structure.