Strike threat that could ramp up lorry crisis based on death over which DVLA was cleared

Possible strikes at the DVLA which threaten to worsen the shortage of HGV drivers are based on a single death over which the agency was cleared of health and safety breaches.

Workers at the agency are being balloted on action that could exacerbate the situation by delaying new licences.

The dispute has erupted over Covid safety measures for staff at the DVLA’s main offices in Swansea, with the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union citing the death of worker Phil Grant and 600 confirmed virus infections among staff during the pandemic.

However, it has emerged that a Health and Safety Executive (HSE) investigation earlier this year into Mr Grant’s death cleared the DVLA of any breaches over its Covid measures.

An HSE spokesman said: "As no evidence was found of breaches of health and safety at work law, our inquiries have concluded. This has been conveyed to both DVLA management and union representatives.  Our thoughts remain with Mr Grant’s family, who have also been informed of our conclusions."  

This week, the PCS began balloting members on strike action over "Covid safety concerns" and the DVLA having "repeatedly refused to allow most operational staff to work from home".

The Road Haulage Association (RHA) warned that the action "could not come at a worse time" as a shortage of HGV drivers contributes to fuel shortages and supply chain problems. 

The RHA said there was already a backlog of 50,000 HGV licences following the pandemic and any further strike action would worsen the situation.

Meanwhile, ministers have previously criticised the union for "politicising" the death of Mr Grant even after the HSE’s findings.

Appearing before the parliamentary committee in July, Baroness Vere, the roads minister, said the HSE had found "nothing was amiss" with the DVLA’s Covid controls at the time of the worker’s death. She added: "It is therefore wrong and possibly hurtful to the family to keep mentioning that death and I find it very upsetting."

The latest strike threat comes after a potential deal between the PCS and the Government to get DVLA staff back to work broke down earlier this year. The union has previously said that only between 250 and 500 of the DVLA’s 2,500 staff need to be working in its offices.

The PCS accused ministers of "scuppering" an agreement in June which would have seen the agency’s staff return to work and each be paid £200 in recognition of their hard work during the pandemic.

However Baroness Vere has said negotiations collapsed after the union demanded extra pay and bonuses in a dispute that was nominally about health and safety concerns. She said the new pay demands equated to "not so much moving the goalposts but changing the sport".

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