Dave Bartlett, Ministry of Justice (MOJ) pcs group executive (personal capacity)
A couple of months ago the chief executive of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) put out on the internal web extracts from a poem about the NHS, which was meant to inspire us. It went: “These are the people who mop the floor, fill the jug, make the cast, and give us the jab, and these are the hands that feel your head”.
If a poem was written about those who run HMCTS it might say: “These are the people who create the mess, fill the lists, make the change and pay us nothing, who make us shake our head”!
As there is no end in sight to the pandemic, workers in the courts, who are classed as essential workers, are fed up and stressed, continue to be paid peanuts, and are wondering whether this day is the one where our luck runs out and we pick up the virus.
Management says the workplace is safe. The facts say otherwise. In January alone, 533 Covid-related cases were reported, and that’s on top of 1,500 Covid-related cases since last August, to say nothing of an increasing number of jurors and professionals being unfit for work.
Management says the ‘recovery programme’ – the HMCTS target to catch up on the backlog – is essential to business needs, but refuses to recognise reality. As Covid continues to wreak havoc in our communities, HMCTS needs to understand and accept that court buildings are not exempt from the pandemic. Indeed, the figures suggest we are a net contributor to outbreaks.
Footfall must be reduced in our buildings, which means reducing the number of court sittings to an absolute minimum to provide a circuit break on the virus transmission. We need to suspend the recovery plan, including increased capacity, until there is an agreed timetable for safe resumption, and there needs to be a voluntary agreement on workplace attendance to undertake work that cannot be done remotely.
As a result of management’s refusal to recognise reality, PCS MOJ Group is now undertaking a consultative ballot of HMCTS workers to look at industrial action to protect the safety and health of our members.
The chief executive hoped that the poem would help us to forget about our problems, but in reality it’s become a timely reminder that enough is enough.
I urge all members in HMCTS to vote ‘yes’ in the ballot and equip the union to make demands and win what is needed to protect all of us.