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July 7, 2008

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HSE staff start industrial action

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union working for the HSE have begun industrial action over the closure of its London headquarters.

According to the union, only 10 staff — out of more than 300 — have expressed an interest in relocating to Bootle in Merseyside, yet the business case for the single head office assumed it would be more like 130.

PCS members started a work-to-rule campaign yesterday, after 73 per cent of members voted in a ballot to take action short of a strike. A union spokesperson told SHP that the action would be ongoing, and amounted to “a withdrawal of good will — not going that extra mile, not doing over-time, etc”.

The campaign has been sparked by fears that the closure of the London base will result in a massive loss of vital skills and expertise, with staff unwilling to relocate. It also comes amid public-sector cuts in spending — the PCS states that total staff numbers at the HSE have now fallen below 3000, while there has been a year-on-year reduction in the number of inspections.

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “Staff in London HQ play a vital and active role in HSE’s efforts to keep people healthy and safe at work. Their technical knowledge of health and safety and understanding of the political environment, magnified by years of experience in building relationships with other government departments and stakeholders, makes HSE the modern, world-recognised and relevant organisation that it is today.”

“Already, nearly 100 staff and four senior managers, including both deputy chief executives, have left. We believe the risks to the organisation of losing this vital expertise are now too great, which is why we are calling on the HSE and the Government to think again.”

The campaign is a blow for HSE bosses and Safety minister, Lord McKenzie, who have consistently defended the move by claiming that the money saved by closing the London office will be ploughed back into funding front-line resources, and insisting that it is also an opportunity to attract new blood.

They have also suggested that as the relocation is taking place over a two-year phase, many more London-based staff are likely to agree to the move as the transfer date nears.

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