Bargaining and Campaigning in Universal Credit

30 Nov 2018

Nineteen of the twenty-five UC Service Centres were represented at the UC reps meeting on 14 November and the DWP GEC Group Officers met on 21 November and took bargaining and campaign decisions based on the report from the UC reps' meeting.

Festive leave 2018

Around half the attending sites reported that there were silly decisions taken by management, such as telling people they were only getting one day, or could only apply for two days. It was reported that Decision Makers at multiple sites had not been issued their annual leave yet.

This information was fed back to the planning managers in OPP at a meeting on 16 November who have agreed to look into it. It is unlikely on this basis that any further leave will be put on the table, but UC have gone over the initial percentages across UC as a whole, with some sites significantly over the percentages.

The lack of consultation in UC is a serious problem. The absence of any consultation on Christmas leave is an example.

Staffing and working conditions

A clear majority of sites reported that members would be willing to take action over staffing and work pressures. Some sites had tested this mood at car park meetings already.

While the Case Managers working on integrated telephony are at the centre of the anger being generated, no area – including Transfers, Quality, Complaints, Live Service, Team Leaders and non-telephony areas such as CBOL – was immune to the problems caused by under-staffing; workloads, volumes of telephone calls, a steadily increasing resort to management by numbers and resultant issues like grade blurring, no consultation on work moves and no regard by management to levels of workplace stress.

Negotiations so far

The DTUS have put our concerns to UC management.  

In response UC management have conceded that some staff are taking too many calls, that there would be a small amount of further recruitment in the Service Centres and that consultation could be improved.

However the numbers involved for recruitment will make little difference to the number of calls staff are taking. DWP have made no moves on delaying managed migration, no moves in terms of ending outsourcing, no moves in terms of limiting the number of calls faced by staff. Instead of concessions about embedding case management, DWP have announced trials to potentially end once-and-done. This move backwards to a contact centre style of working is opposed by the GEC and will alarm reps.

The concession that some staff were taking too many calls is immediately cancelled by DWP’s view that actually this can be fixed by everyone else taking more calls. This misses the point that there is a lot of work to do which doesn’t involve telephony, and that the answer is not to just intensify the pressure until everyone is being put on the phones. The source of DWP statistics in relation to the average number of calls staff are taking is not clear. A lot of sites report 30-40 calls per day, average, which is very different to the averages DWP reports. PCS believe that they are including non-telephony teams of Case Managers into their figures.

Group Officers' Decisions

The DWP GEC Group Officers' meeting on 21 November agreed that:

  • PCS writes to senior UC management setting out our concerns and our demands asking for a reply by 14 December and warning that in the case of the lack of a reply or an unsatisfactory reply we will regard ourselves as in a trade dispute.
  • The GEC urgently convene car park meetings of UC members at Wolverhampton and Walsall and take a vote based on both the national demands and local.
  • The GEC arrange car park meetings in all UC service centre sites by 14 December and take a vote based on the national demands.
  • The Leeds office is tasked with working with all UC Service centre sites to update their commix records including density and membership records.
  • Group Officers draft campaign materials for members.
  • A meeting is convened between Group Officers and the PCS Political and Campaigns team to prepare parliamentary and media pressure on the employer.
  • To amend and then issue the draft BB that has been prepared.

National Demands and Campaigning  

The national demands that the GEC will put to senior UC management are:

  • 5,000 additional staff across Universal Credit Service Centres
  • Limits to the number of telephone calls each agent should take per day
  • An agreement limiting the role of national telephony and embedding the case management (i.e. “Service Centre”) model.
  • Stronger – effective – consultation arrangements governing workloads, work moves, work processes, the design and grading of job roles.
  • Binding restrictions on how Management Information is used in respect of any job that is telephony-based.
  • Managed Migration to be delayed pending full consultation with, and agreement of, the departmental trade unions
  • An end to outsourcing in Universal Credit.

GEC members will be in contact with UC Service Centres about arranging car park meetings, updating commix records and providing organising support for recruiting non-members. 

Local UC bargaining and campaigning

Branches should ensure that UC Service Centre reps raising local demands in negotiations based on the national demands. The national demands can be adapted and localised. Each UC site owns a part of the national staffing demand for 5,000 additional UC case managers. Therefore each site should be making this demand to DWP managers locally and all the way up the Area Director level. The same applies to all the other demands. An example is below, for Walsall and Wolverhampton.

  • Recruitment of 250 additional UC Case Managers 
  • Stop the stress by limiting phone calls to 30 per week
  • Improve training and support for case managers
  • No more changes without consulting staff and our union reps
  • Stop outsourcing the work from our tethered jobcentres; staff DWP properly.

The 250 staff that would be the basis for a local demand on staffing represents around a 50% increase in the number of staff at the two sites. Earlier this year, the employer agreed that staff should be spending no more than one day a week on telephony. That has not been stuck to. The worst hit staff report taking 30-40 calls per day. They wind up opening multiple windows for each claim and not being able to clear all the work associated with their earlier calls because of the volume of calls being taken. It is not sustainable and a substantial increase in staffing is the only way to address it. This approach applies to all sites.

Negotiations ahead of any potential dispute

UC Service Centre negotiations on local demands are a crucial part of building pressure on management and as a last resort establishing a dispute. The local tailored demands should be put in writing to the most senior manager for the site asking for a formal written response.

Regional Bargaining

Regional TUS should ask to meet with Group Directors and the Area Director. Area Directors now have a great deal of latitude in terms of staffing. They are empowered to authorise additional recruitment. This means putting the demand to DWP at this level is very important. Where responses to local bargaining are not sufficient to resolve the concerns of members, the issue must be escalated to regional level by emailing the correspondence and a report of negotiations to the Regional Secretary or Regional (OSN) Trade Union Side Secretary.

This puts trade union sides at a regional level in a position to write to their area director outlining the key issues, summarising the clear demands escalated from each site and asking for a response in writing. Where no response or an insufficient response is received by regional TUS, this should be escalated immediately to the GEC via Dave Semple and Sam Hall, the lead negotiators.

Parallel to this work by branch and regional TUS, UC Trade Union Side will continue to engage with DWP at a national level. By January we will have gone to great lengths to exhaust negotiations, to ensure that we have done everything that can be done to improve members working conditions.  

Campaigning amongst members

The purpose of Group, local and regional negotiations is to win improvements for our members. If our demands are not met, UC Service Centres with local support amongst members, can make submissions for local strike action. The GEC will continue to monitor the feedback from members meetings and will not hesitate to ballot for action involving all or some UC Service Centre sites, if our demands are not met by negotiation.

Group Officers will contact branches to arrange UC Service Centre members’ meetings. These meetings will discuss the staffing campaign and working conditions and put forward a strategy to deal decisively with members concerns. A GEC speaker will attend the meetings.

Recruiting non-members is a big part of this campaign. Targeted recruitment material, material that explains the demands of the campaign and which highlights the experience of members using their own testimony will be produced by the GEC – but this does not prevent branches and regions producing their own additional material where it is felt this will help raise the confidence and activity levels of members.

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