Latest Public Sector News

09.06.14

PCS threatens strike action over Passport Office cuts

Industrial action is being threatened by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union if the current passport ‘backlog’ is not addressed by the Passport Office.

In a letter to Paul Pugh, chief executive at the Passport Office, reproduced below, the PCS blames the backlog crisis on “major job cuts and office closures during the past five years”, as well as the increasing use of private companies.

The passports letter points out that 22 interview offices and one application processing centre have closed in recent years and 315 staff, a tenth of the workforce, have lost their jobs. It also notes that staff are battling a backlog of almost half a million cases.

The letter from Mike Jones, the union’s Home Office group secretary, states that despite making the Passport Office’s profits of £70m in the last financial year. “there appears to be a lack of forward thinking and measures put in place to sufficiently deal with applications”.

It adds: “We do not accept that the current problems can solely be down to unusual demand.”

PCS is now preparing to hold a consultative ballot of all its quarter-of-a-million civil and public service members with a view to taking part in joint union action over pay, starting with a one-day strike in July.

Jones has called for urgent negotiations to identify “where additional permanent jobs are needed with a firm assurance that these jobs will be filled as soon as possible”, as well as talks to address low pay in the Passport Office and the latest privatisation threat.

It ends: “If we do not get a satisfactory response by 30 June 2014 we will be considering industrial action.”

Paul Pugh, chief executive of Her Majesty's Passport Office, told PSE: “We have been experiencing exceptional early summer demand for passports, which seems to be in part due to the improving economy and a rise in holiday bookings. Staff were brought in immediately to respond to the extra demand; we are operating seven days a week and our couriers are delivering passports within 24 hours of being produced. 

“We have issued almost three million passports for UK customers in 2014, including over one million issued in the eight weeks since the start of April. 

“During this busy period we have processed more than 97 per cent of straightforward passport renewal and child applications within the three week target turnaround time. There is no backlog, with over 99 per cent of straightforward applications being processed within four weeks. 

“We would remind people of our existing advice to customers: allow plenty of time when applying for a new or renewed passport as a passport will not be issued until the necessary security checks have been done, and do not book travel until you have received your passport.” 

Below is a copy of the PCS letter sent to Paul Pugh:

Dear Paul,

Urgent negations with HM Passport Office

PCS are aware of the current backlogs and crisis unfolding in HMPO.

PCS believe that many of the current problems stem from major job cuts and office closures during the past 5 years and the use of private companies to undertake work that was once done in-house.

The “efficiency measures” which saw the closure of 22 interview offices and one application processing centre and the sacking of 315 staff – a reduction of around one in 10 of the workforce we believe has been a major factor in creating this current crisis.

A situation whereby backlogs are currently at near ½ million and the general public are suffering as their applications are not being dealt with in a reasonable time. This situation has been compounded by the fact that jobs have been cut, sections of the business have been privatised and applicants are prevented from visiting local offices to deal with their issues due to the employer previously embarking on a programme of office closures.

PCS have also been made aware that customer call backs are more than a month behind. Plus customer complaints have gone up massively. Staff pulled in from other areas of the business to help deal with calls do not have the relevant experience to deal with them.

Despite making profits of £70m in the last financial year there appears to be a lack of forward thinking and measures put in place to sufficiently deal with applications. We do not accept that the current problems can solely be down to unusual demand. This completely ignores the fact that warnings have been ignored over the effects of cuts over the past 5 years, during the height of the recession, by HMPO following the Government’s cuts agenda. Now, it appears that the inevitable rise in demand has exposed the shortfall in staff and the failure of privatising sections of the process.

PCS are led to believe that contingency measures, other than overtime, were only put in place when the backlogs reached 350,000.

PCS are opposed to the excessive use of overtime. We were also not consulted on the lifting of the agreed restriction on Grade 6’s and 7’s being able to claim overtime. Furthermore we were not consulted on the redeploying of Interview Officers, Fraud and GRO staff onto examination work and setting up AMS systems in Southport.

We note the contents of the recently published HMPO People Plan, which commits the organisation to examining further ways to introduce the private sector and other parties into the organisation. PCS continue to be opposed to privatisation and don’t believe that there is any justifiable reason for the services provided by HMPO to be delivered by anyone other than Civil Servants. In our experience, privatisation and outsourcing only leads to worsening of services to the public and attacks on members’ jobs and terms and conditions.

Finally, in light of consecutive pay freezes and cuts and the fact that HMPO staff are now, on average, hundreds of pounds worst off per year than their Home Office equivalents, the time has now come to negotiate meaningfully on harmonisation with Home Office pay rates in order to recognise the valuable contribution made by our members and eliminate the anomaly which makes HMPO the ‘poor relation’ within the Home Office family.

We are seeking the following assurances:

•           Agreement that HMPO Pay Remit for 2014/15 will have the scope and funding to reach agreement on harmonization with Home Office Pay including setting a rate above the living wage for the lowest paid staff.

•           A commitment to work with PCS in identifying where additional permanent jobs are needed with a firm assurance that these jobs will be filled as soon as possible after they are identified.

•           A commitment that no future HMPO work will be privatised with a guarantee that all existing functions and services will be provided by Civil Servants.

Therefore PCS call on HMPO to begin urgent negotiations with PCS representatives on pay, jobs and privatisation.

If we do not get a satisfactory response by 30th June 2014 we will be considering industrial action.

As ever, we look forward to your earliest and most positive response.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Jones

PCS Home Office Group Secretary

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