Local management informed Dave that this was a problem that was outside of their control so as a consequence Dave escalated the issue to the PCS DWP group assistant secretaries (AS) Sam Hall and Mark Page.
PCS consulted with other members of the Universal Credit Advisory Committee which is composed of PCS reps working in Universal Credit from many of the service centres. It became apparent that this was a widespread issue.
The problems around how telephony was being scheduled in the UC full service centres was raised with the appropriate national management with evidence provided by statements from members from a number of sites.
These statements made it clear that the way telephone cover was being scheduled was causing members a great deal of stress, particularly because they were required to change duties at short notice. Members were also clear that the constant demand to cover the phones meant that they were not able to cover their case management duties which had the impact of driving claimants to call more often.
Senior national managers agreed to look into the problems reported. However the problems with telephony resurfaced a few weeks later. Reps at Walsall raised the issues with local management and members supplied statements from Walsall about how they felt about working on the telephones.
This time 24 members provided testimony. It was clear that they were trying to be constructive about the situation but that they had reached the end of their tether. Again these statements were supplied to national management but there was no response.
Mark Page, DWP assistant secretary
The members at Walsall demanded that PCS took action. In response the Walsall and Wolverhampton branch, supported by full time officers from the PCS Midlands office, took an indicative ballot of members as they came into work. Of the 92 members consulted 85 said they were prepared to take strike action over the problems with staffing the telephones.
Following the indicative ballot group AS Mark Page addressed a meeting in the car park. 88 members attend this meeting and 86 of them indicated that they would be prepared to strike to get better working conditions. The results went to UC management and the branch was advised to make sure that they were ballot ready in the event that there was not an adequate response from the department.
In a matter of days DWP indicated its intention to change how telephony is covered in UC Full Service. Members would no longer be required to work for so long on the phones and that periods of time covering the phones would be shorter and better planned. Members at Walsall indicated that sufficient ground had been given by the DWP for them to not go ahead with a formal, legal ballot.
Mark Page said “The work of the Wolverhampton and Walsall branch was brilliant. The determined actions and solidarity of members at Walsall who demonstrated that they were prepared to take strike action to improve their working conditions shows that when union members stick together they can really make things better.”