Extended services - test and learn

Since the employee deal collective agreement was signed in 2016 the question many members have been asking is “when will we be forced to work to 8pm and on a Saturday?”

Many had anticipated the autumn of 2017 would see the roll-out of extended opening hours, due to the “not before October 2017” provision in the agreement, although the GEC was always clear with members that customer demand would need to be shown, and the impact to services earlier in the day would need to be properly evaluated.

Earlier this year the department indicated it wanted to move to extended hours to meet an “increasing customer demand to contact DWP outside of the traditional opening hours”. Some stats show customers are using electronic communications now more than ever before. This leads the department to believe therefore, they will use the services we provide to speak to staff if we open later.

As a result, throughout 2018 there has been a mood to open services to both until 8pm and on a Saturday in principle.

While it was expected, even feared, by many members that late and Saturday opening would just be introduced across DWP, the GEC has continually argued for a common sense approach and proper evaluation of those crucial tests – establishing customer demand and impact on services. While we will see a number of PCS members having to work different patterns as a result of extending services, the union's negotiators have tried hard to minimise the impact of the department's wishes and have significantly pushed back on what might have been proposed, with the expected “cliff edge” being replaced instead with a “test and learn” approach aimed at a phased implementation, currently in selected areas of operations.

Rollout in DSDRD
In May, it was announced specific areas in DLA/IIDB/AtW, would extend their hours from October, having been offered by DWP as areas that are moving towards the service centre model, so not just responding to customer phone calls.

PCS raised a number of concerns about the need for the extension, the readiness of the business to implement the extension and the impact extended hours will have on performance earlier in the day.

That T&L is still in its early days and the union will continue to consult with the involved branches and listen to the experiences of members on the ground before any escalation is agreed to.

Further test and learns announced
Following this earlier announcement PCS has been consulted on a further series of T&Ls, to run from May 2019, and in October it was announced that DWP would operate the following:

  • A TPT test and learn in CMG to consider alternatives to the current tool
  • Swansea pensions centre to open weekdays to 8pm
  • Eight jobcentres to open on a Saturday
  • NINO allocation centre in Rusholme to open one night to 8pm and on a Saturday for interviews
  • Bootle PIP to seek volunteers to work different patterns to include early starts, lates to 8pm and Saturday.

The response has been mixed so far and PCS is working with the employer to arrange members' meetings on the affected sites as soon as possible.

While PCS will be fully involved in the T&L, which seeks to replace the failed TPT, the union is yet to be convinced that any of the other proposals are necessary, or workable, and has raised specific concerns regarding the demand for late opening in RPD and Saturday’s in jobcentres; H&S and security issues in Rusholme; and the principle of the Bootle T&L.

Consultation with PCS and our members is crucial
The GEC is committed to working with DWP to review when, where, and if there is a need to consider extending services in any part of the department, but it cannot be based on merely extending hours for the sake of it.

Martin Cavanagh, DWP group vice president, states: “The introduction of the 8pm and Saturday contract was always going to see the department explore moving to late night and Saturday opening. This would have been the case with or without employee deal. What the collective agreement has given us though, in addition to extra money for thousands of our members, is an influence on decisions made by the department in relation to their operating hours.”

While the DWP seeks to extend the hours its services are available to the public PCS will continue to challenge every decision to ensure the collective agreement is adhered to.

Martin continues: “It is vital the welfare of our members is at the forefront of any proposals, and has at least an equal status to any perceived operational requirement.”

Local risk assessments need to be carried out and we must ensure health and safety concerns are addressed, with access and transport to and from each site needing to be available and safe for our members.

Martin finishes by saying “Every aspect of any proposal to extend services or hours needs to be properly worked through. In addition to ensuring our members welfare and safety is guaranteed, the GEC will continue to press the employer for detailed discussions on whether there is any impact on their forecasts of a smoothing customer demand – we are sceptical given our knowledge of those areas that currently open until 8pm.”

Very real concerns exist about moving the working patterns of staff to the end of the day and the impact this will have on the services at the beginning of the day.  

The GEC will demand each T&L is given sufficient time to be properly impacted and evaluated in detail. It is crucial time for proper consultation with the union is factored in before testing anywhere else.

Consultation with PCS and our members on this has to be central to any proposal. The GEC is committed to ensuring it is.

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