Staff at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have started a six-day strike over the organisation's sell off of personal and commercially sensitive data, as well as fears over looming job losses.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union's 120 members, who make up 99 per cent of the staff in the Bootle shared services office, started the strike action today. More staff from the Newport office will join them for a 24-hour strike on 31 July. It follows a similar one-day strike at both offices on 30 June.
Members of the union have written to permanent secretary Ursula Brennan to raise concerns about the privatisation plan that will lead to data being dealt with by a third party, and potentially being stored overseas.
Brennan has been asked to answer a series of questions around data protection, and the union claims that if the response is not satisfactory then it will be referring the matter to the Information Commissioner.
Hundreds of the MoJ's staff work in shared-services centres that handle the payroll, personnel and finance functions for the department, courts, prison and probation services and the Home Office. They could all be handed over to a new company called Shared Services Connected Ltd (SSCL), which is 75 per cent owned by French IT services company Steria and 25 per cent owned by the government.
SSCL had been charged with similar work for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Defra and has plans to halve the number of UK staff doing the work and close three offices in October 2014, at the same time as taking on 200 more jobs in India. The union fears that MoJ staff could suffer the same fate.
The union said that job losses and migration of data would go against previous ministerial commitments to keep government contracts in the UK, and Prime Minister David Cameron's recent pledge to "reshore" jobs.
"Not only does this move threaten the security of sensitive personal and financial information, it is a cynical exploitation of the inferior pay and employment conditions of workers in other countries," said PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka.
PCS also suggested that the choice of Steria is also a risk, after the company's role in setting up a £116m project to help run HR, procurement and payroll services for 90,000 services was shelved.
The MoJ realised that the project was delayed, over-budget and duplicated by another department, leading to the organisation writing off £56m worth of investment.
"After millions was squandered on IT in the MoJ, it appears Steria is being rewarded for failure with this contract that it has already confirmed will mean hundreds of job losses," Serwotka added.