Jobcentre Plus to pilot extended opening hours

15 June 2009

 

Jobcentre Plus is announcing today its plans to pilot extended opening hours. This is its latest response to the pressures caused by the recession and rising unemployment.

The pilot has three separate elements:

• 8 am to 6 pm opening in one Job Centre Plus District
• Benefit processing upto 8 pm in 19 BDC’s
• Telephony services upto 8 pm in 1 CCD site.

8 am to 6 pm Opening in Job Centres

The pilot involves opening the Jobcentres in the Tees Valley District from 8 am to 6 pm. They intend to pilot this there from the end of July and then spread the pilot to Leicestershire and Northamptonshire District and another, as yet unnamed, District in the East Midlands Region later this year.

Jobcentre Plus intend to use the pilot to test what level of service can be provided safely within these longer opening hours, The pilot will take into account customer demand, impact on staff, costs and health and safety.

Management have not yet determined what services will be provided during these hours. They accept that this is likely to vary from site to site within the pilot Districts, depending on local factors such as the size of the office, staff availability and safety issues. Options being considered for services during extended opening are to just run Group sessions, or run an appointments only service or to provide a fuller service.

These discussions are currently taking place within Jobcentre Plus and PCS will continue to be consulted at national and regional and local level. The pilot in the Job Centres will also impact on the BDC that works to them, where a small number of staff will be needed to cover telephony traffic from the Job Centres.

Benefit Processing till 8 pm in BDC’s

Earlier this year Jobcentre Plus ran a pilot in Leeds and Hull BDC’s to seek volunteers to do benefit processing till 8 pm. Despite the lack of interest shown there management have now decided to extend this pilot to 19 BDC’s in total.

They intend to use new recruits, who are contracted to work until 8 pm, as well as to seek volunteers from existing staff. This pilot will be heavily dependant on experienced staff, and managers, volunteering to change their hours to support any new recruits. Staff who were employed by DWP before 2 May 2004 are entitled to Extended Working Hours Allowance (EWHA) if they become contracted to work after 6 pm. EWHA is equivalent to time and a half for any hours worked after 6 pm. If you joined DWP after 2 May 2004 there is no entitlement to EWHA.

Telephony Services to 8 pm in CCD

This pilot will test the practicality of providing telephony services, primarily for outbound calls, in one CCD site (Marton Mere). This office is one that recently transferred to Jobcentre Plus from CSA,and many of the staff employed there are already contracted to work till 8 pm.

Will I have to change my hours?

Management have made a commitment to PCS that there will be no compulsory contractual changes to working patterns. This means that the extended opening hours can only be staffed, either by existing staff who volunteer to change their hours, or by new staff who have been recruited on new, ‘flexible’ contracts that cover the hours of 8 am to 8 pm.

Existing Staff

The ‘normal’ contract for existing staff runs from 8.36 am to 5 pm. This means that existing staff on this contract, including part time and part year staff, can not be made to attend work before 8.36 am or after 5 pm. Members can volunteer to do so, and many already do through the flexi scheme, but they can not be made to do so.

Members in the pilot areas may be asked to volunteer to change their hours. There is a risk that some managers may try to coerce members to change and so it is vital that members are clear about their contractual rights. Any member who feels that they are being put under pressure to change their hours should contact their local PCS rep as soon as possible.

New Staff

Many of the new staff who have been recruited recently are on different contracts, where they can be made to work between 8 am and 8 pm. These staff are likely to be asked to cover the extended opening, though they will be given 4 weeks notice before their working pattern is changed. PCS has made clear our opposition to any member being made to work extended working patterns.

More offices space not longer opening hours
PCS believes that the best way for Jobcentre Plus to manage the increased demand for our services is to increase the size and numbers of our offices. There are 400 requests to extend accommodation outstanding across Jobcentre Plus but only a small number of works have actually been completed. At a time when two DWP sites are threatened with closure, greater emphasis on making Trillium extend the estate quicker should be used rather than asking our members to change their working hours.

PCS have made it clear to Jobcentre Plus that we believe that this pilot is likely to be extremely unpopular with many members and will cause considerable uncertainty and anxiety. Jobcentre Plus claim that extending opening hours could allow them to accommodate more requests from staff to work different patterns, such as compressed hours, and also to reduce the need for staff to regularly work overtime.

However PCS is concerned that local management may be less willing to accommodate such changes. We recognise that there will be some members who would benefit from the opportunity to start earlier or finish later than they are allowed to at the moment. We believe that this can best be done by fuller use of existing flexi-time arrangements, and making full flexi-time available to all members.

Management have made it clear that this is a real pilot and will be looking at whether it actually delivers a real benefit to the customers and the business before any decisions are taken whether or not to extend it. PCS is sceptical that there will be significant customer demand for early or late opening.

Health & Safety

Management have assured PCS that health and safety must not be put at risk by any extension of opening hours. They are also committed to a full risk assessment taking
place in any site where longer opening hours is to be piloted. Any necessary control measures, including additional CCO and security cover, must be put in place prior to any changes being implemented.

What next?

This pilot is an emergency measure made necessary by the shortage of space caused by the excessive office closure programme of the last few years. PCS believes that the solution to the current crisis is to open more offices and recruit more permanent staff, not simply open for longer. Extended opening is not a permanent solution and we will continue our campaign for a fully resourced and equipped Jobcentre Plus.

PCS will continue to meet with Jobcentre Plus to discuss the detail of the proposals and further guidance will be issued accordingly. It is essential that members and reps in the pilot areas monitor the pilot closely and any issues must be forwarded to Group office at the earliest opportunity.
 

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