Consultative Ballot on the Extending of Operating Hours and Safety in Universal Credit and Jobcentres

31 Jul 2020

The group executive committee (GEC) has agreed to hold a consultative ballot in reaction to the DWP decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit (UC) Service Centres from 30 November 2020.

The ballot will be a consultative vote to get the views of all members in Jobcentres and the 21 UC Service Centres. It is not a strike ballot. It will commence on Monday 17 August 2020 and close on Monday 7 September 2020. DWP have informed PCS that all Jobcentres, subject to viability, will extend their operating hours at some point in the future. All members in scope for this consultative ballot are strongly encouraged to vote YES in the ballot in order that pressure is put on the employer to withdraw their decision

The GEC has been critical of the DWP in deciding to firstly re-open the doors of Jobcentres during the pandemic and now to extend operating hours. PCS is strongly opposed to the extension of operating hours on the following grounds:

  • Safety - during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of COVID-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to re-open job centres to the public, at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk when there is no requirement to do so.
  • Equality for part-year members – deciding to hold a 5 week planning period when most part-year staff will not be at work will undoubtedly put those members at a disadvantage when their working patterns will be decided. They will be excluded entirely from the planning process that determines when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. DWP have failed to carry out an equality analysis which is directly disadvantaging those members with a protective characteristic who will be absent from work during the month of August. PCS will be seeking legal advice on this issue.
  • Failure to identify a business requirement to extend operating hours - PCS do not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand of DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays from the end of November. Where opening hours in Jobcentres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the Jobcentres reverted to their normal opening hours. There is no evidence that the increase in UC claimants means that there will be a demand to communicate with DWP at different times of the day. PCS welcome the indication from DWP that the telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, but it demonstrates that there is no requirement for staff to stay until 8pm. No Jobcentre should open beyond 5pm until an agreed risk assessment is in place.
  • Failure to meaningfully consult with the unions – During the pandemic PCS has met DWP at least twice a week and successfully negotiated improvements for staff on a wide range of issues such as health and safety, annual leave and personnel policy changes.  DWP is required to meaningfully consult PCS on any proposed change to opening hours. Appallingly DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours. They have made clear that they do not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it. That is not acceptable. It is bad industrial relations by the DWP.  

PCS acknowledges DWP can invoke extended operating hours under the Employee Deal, if they have a legitimate operational requirement, but while the pandemic continues the health and safety of our members is our primary concern and should be DWPs. This decision to extend operating increases the risk to our members, other colleagues who work in our offices and the public who use our Jobcentres. PCS will continue to oppose both the decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours until it is safe to do. The safety of our members will always come first and is paramount in everything we do.

PCS submit demands in letter to DWP

The GEC has written to the DWP tabling the following demands and stating that if they do not agree by 17 August 2020 we will regard that as creating a trade dispute:

  1. The DWP withdraw their notice to staff to extend operating hours to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and a Saturday in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres from 30 November 2020.
  2. No escalation of footfall in the Jobcentre estate and only interviews with those identified as the most vulnerable are invited in to Jobcentres throughout the course of the pandemic.
  3. The easements put in place during the pandemic, which have allowed the focus to be on paying benefits to those who need them, continue with no escalation in Labour Market activity.
  4. Meaningful consultation on the demand to extend services and the risk assessment process to take place nationally prior to any formal notice issued to staff.
  5. A full equality analysis to be carried out on both the extended hours and re-opening of Jobcentres in consultation with PCS and identified risks fully mitigated.

A good turnout in the consultative ballot is vitally important if we are to be successful in forcing DWP to reverse their decisions. This ballot is not about voting to take industrial action. No industrial action can be called by PCS until a legal statutory ballot is held, but we have heard our members concerns over these recent announcements and remain fully committed to engaging with you during these difficult times.

If PCS has your email address you will receive an email telling you how to vote. If we don’t have your email address you will get a letter explaining how you can vote online or by post.

Please make every effort to vote and in doing so send a message to the DWP that we don’t agree to their re-opening of Job centres to the public or their extending operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres.

Please speak with any non-members in your office and ask them to join the union as the stronger and more organised we are, the better chance we have of success.

Please look out for and attend any socially distanced members’ meetings that are held at your office, and for further communications from the GEC in the coming weeks. 

VOTE YES IN THE CONSULTATIVE BALLOT – VOTE YES FOR SAFETY

 

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