DVLA strike 'will put Christmas at risk' warns HGV group

DVLA strike ‘will put Christmas at risk’: Anger as union threatens more action despite backlog of 56,000 HGV licence applications – with just 20 foreign lorry drivers given visas so far

  • DVLA workers from the PCS union will vote on strike action in coming weeks 
  • Action led by PCS boss Mark Serwotka began in February over Covid safety fears
  • Currently, 2,500 staff – around 40 per cent – are turning up at the DVLA offices

A threatened strike by workers at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency will put Christmas at risk the Road Haulage Association warned today – as it emerged only 20 foreign drivers had currently been given visas.

Industrial action floated by members of the Public and Commercial Services union at the DVLA offices in Swansea, south Wales, come amid a backlog of 56,000 HGV licence applications.

And it looms against a so far unsuccessful government plan to tempt foreign drivers back to the country, only recruiting 20 so far.

The PCS union is threatening a strike over the number of DVLA workers that have to work at the Swansea site – claiming it is not safe following the pandemic.

Members will vote on whether to continue with industrial action, which originally began in February over the Covid-related concerns. 

But tens of thousands of HGV licence applications – which would be crucial to avert more supply chain problems – are waiting to be approved with a strike no doubt worsening the backlog.

The RHA spelled out the consequences of the strike going ahead. Kate Gibbs, Head of Comms for the trade association told MailOnline: “The action by DVLA staff could not come at a worse time. This industry is already facing a 100,000k driver shortage and the news that the agency was to speed up the licencing process would have made at least a dent in that shortfall.

‘And additional hold ups at this time will just add more misery for the thousands of hauliers, desperate to get their drivers back on the road.

‘Supply chains are already straining under the additional pressure and we are already seeing empty supermarket shelves as a result. If, as predicted, Christmas was already at risk, this will inevitably make that risk a reality.’

Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at the DVLA offices in Swansea, south Wales, will vote on whether to continue with industrial action, which originally began in February over Covid-related safety (Pictured: PCS leader Mark Serwotka)

At present, just 2,500 staff (or roughly 40 per cent) are turning up at DVLA headquarters (pictured)

Lorry on M1 motorway in motion near London as the HGV shortage continues to grip Britain

The PCS union has been calling for fewer staff to work at the site, allowing more to work from home, despite the DVLA insisting it has taken measures to ensure the safety of workers.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘The determination of our members to secure a just deal remains steadfast.

‘Ministers have admitted they scuppered the dispute-ending deal back in June, but they have underestimated our members’ unbreakable resolve.

‘We want a deal that has Covid safety measures at its heart, appropriate reward and recognition for staff working throughout the pandemic and a workplace recovery plan, agreed with the union.

‘If our members vote once again for strike action, we will support them every step of the way.’

At present just 2,500 staff, or roughly 40 per cent, are turning up at DVLA headquarters. 

Thousands of shipping containers at the Port of Felixstowe in Suffolk amid the driver shortage

The DVLA insists that provisional licences are now being turned around in four or five days – though 1,000 arrive each 24 hours – and says many drivers can carry on working while a renewal is being processed

Swansea Bay health board – home to DVLA HQ – has lowest double vaccination rate in Wales 

The latest figures from the Welsh Government show that Swansea – which is home to the DVLA headquarters – has the lowest proportion of residents who have been double jabbed against coronavirus. 

According to Public Health Wales 87 per cent of 16-64 year olds in the Local Health Board of Swansea Bay have received two doses of the vaccine. 

That is the lowest proportion out of the seven boards, joint with Hywel Dda and Cardiff and Vale. 

Meanwhile the board of Powys has seen the biggest uptake in the vaccine with 91 per cent of 16-64 year olds having had two jabs. 

It is followed by Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Aneurin Bevan, both with 89 per cent, and Betsi Cadwaladr with 88 per cent. 

Due to the pandemic, the remainder are still allowed to work from home. 

Activists have staged 58 days of strikes in the past six months and continue to resist efforts to further repopulate the DVLA office.

Two weeks ago, as petrol forecourts ran dry and the HGV driver shortage became front-page news, it emerged that a staggering backlog of more than 56,000 applications for ‘vocational’ licences (needed by all lorry and bus drivers) had been allowed to build up in the DVLA’s system.

About 4,000 of those are for provisional licences, while the remainder covered renewals.

This followed a year in which thanks largely to the suspension of tests (over which the DVLA had no control) just 26,400 new HGV drivers were approved, some 17,000 fewer than normal, according to figures cited by the Spectator.

This January, when about 3,000 would typically be granted, a mere 173 were.

The DVLA insists that provisional licences are now being turned around in four or five days – though 1,000 arrive each 24 hours – and says many drivers can carry on working while a renewal is being processed. 

But speaking on LBC earlier this month, an HGV driver named Deep said he’d been caught up in the system for a year.

‘They want to have Europeans to come along and do our driving when we’ve got people in this country who are waiting to drive, waiting to do this stuff and they can’t,’ he complained.

Driver Antony Crowther told the Guardian how he’d been unable to work for five months due to delays processing medical documents. 

Hundreds of thousands of ordinary motorists are also facing crippling delays in getting or renewing licences – an essential piece of ID, which can be required to open bank accounts or secure mortgages.

As of last week there were some 1.4million paper applications sitting on desks inside DVLA headquarters (a million more than usual), with roughly 60,000 more arriving every day.

The DVLA’s current troubles, they say, date back to last year’s devastating second wave, which turned Swansea into one of the world’s most virulent Covid hotspots.

Days before Christmas, Public Health Wales revealed an outbreak of about 60 cases had been detected in the organisation’s ‘contact centre’ department, where staff process calls and emails from the public.

Understandably, many of the 2,000 or so employees then on-site felt they ought to be allowed to work temporarily from home.

However, management, who point out that much of the DVLA’s work involves processing personal data and accessing highly secure databases which often cannot be safely done remotely, thought otherwise.

Disagreement swiftly escalated among workers, half of whom are part of the PCS union, which is led by Mr Serwotka.

On January 25, Mr Serwotka announced conditions in the building were unsafe and demanded that ministers intervene to ‘temporarily cease non-critical services there’.

A safety dispute has been rumbling on ever since, despite the fact that the site’s Covid outbreak was formally declared over in February.

By March, they had successfully balloted for industrial action.

Amid the current pressures on the DVLA, the ongoing campaign remains hugely divisive.

Supporters, including half a dozen local Labour MPs, argue the union is anxious to protect members from exploitative bosses.

Critics, however, have accused the union’s leaders of exaggerating once-justified but now spurious safety fears for political gain. 

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