Scores of workers have downed tools at the DVLA in Swansea in support of a four-day strike action following fears about the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic there.
Staff indicated there was only a skeleton workforce on some floors inside the Government agency’s Morriston headquarters on Tuesday due to the protest over working conditions.
The agency has a 6,000-strong workforce but during the pandemic staffing numbers at the site have varied with 1,500 people working from home at the beginning of the crisis. But the DVLA has indicated that there are now 2,200 people home working and that only those who are unable to work from home are still on site.
Workers have continually complained about conditions at the site in relation to coronavirus safety, although the DVLA has insisted that placing staff safety first has always been its priority.
A member of staff, who did not wish to be named, claimed ahead of the industrial action that lower grade staff were being made to go into the office.
She claimed: “Still all non-essential work is being carried out, therefore way too many staff are unnecessarily on site. The enforcement department is fully operational so fining and prosecuting people whilst many have lost their jobs or lost family members. This isn’t essential work to ‘keep Britain on the move’.
“Mangers and non-operational roles are working from home so if you are in an operational role you have to attend work, there is no option to work from home as the systems we use are not supported by the Windows programme we use on laptops. For a government agency it’s shocking. It’s a hierarchy so lower grade admin assistants or admin officers are put at risk whilst executive officers and above continue to work from home.” The DVLA has stressed the safety of its staff is paramount.
Another DVLA worker claimed: “Most people have striked. A lot of people feel unsafe and that is why there’s not many people in there – but it’s a big building. There’s not many people in there – there’s only 25 on my floor and there’s 100 people usually. A lot of people feel strongly enough to strike. We are trying to manage the best we can.”
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The worker, who said they had remained free of the virus despite heading into the DVLA building during the pandemic, added: “It’s too little, too late – we are coming out of lockdown. They should have called it back in December. A couple of people went down with Covid back in December on my floor but it’s all quiet at the moment.”
There have been 546 cases of coronavirus recorded at the Swansea site.
The figures sparked a series of complaints from staff, who claimed too many people were being allowed to work on one floor, and that cleaning regimes might not be good enough. Some said they were too scared to go into work, claiming scores of workers were sharing the same kitchens, toilets and there were no windows to open on the floors. Hot desking at the site was also claimed to be an issue.
The DVLA said staffing levels were currently significantly lower than usual. It said that every day a total of 60,000 items of mail were received by the organisation, which said it was taking six to eight weeks to process it all.
The agency has put in place new online services in the wake of the crisis and has spent £3.6m making Covid sites secure. Thermal imaging cameras to check temperatures and one-way systems had been put in place, the agency underlined.
A DVLA spokeswoman said: “The safety of our staff is paramount, and we have continuously adapted our measures over the past year and will continue to do so.
“There is currently not a single member of staff in the 10-day isolation period, out of a workforce of more than 6,000.
“DVLA has ensured that it has followed Welsh Government guidance at every single point throughout the pandemic having consistently worked with Public Health Wales, environmental health and Swansea Bay Health Board to introduce a wide range of safety measures. This has enabled DVLA to continue to deliver essential services right across the UK in a Covid secure way.”