Following a number of queries earlier in the week regarding revised guidance issued by DWP concerning the impact of school issues, we outlined the anger PCS and members felt at the imposed new advice to managers
In particular the significant change in emphasis from applying paid special leave - to deal with cases were DWP staff could not carry on with their "normal" caring/schooling arrangements - to only allowing it in "exceptional circumstances" created real worry and anger amongst members.
Negotiations with DWP
PCS immediately responded to DWP and has been in dialogue pressing for amendments to the harsher guidance issued last Friday, providing examples of where managers have been over-zealous in its application.
The discussions between the unions and the employer, which are continuing as a matter of urgency, have been positive and PCS believe there is a shared understanding of the importance of any guidance emphasising support for staff, rather than instruction to them.
In particular we have been discussing revised guidance around those members who's children can't attend their normal school; are pre-school and have never been to nursery or a minder before; or whose children's wellbeing could be placed at risk.
Advice to members
We hope that the revised guidance will be available and published by the end of the week, and we will issue a further briefing once the position has been finalised.
In the meantime we would draw members' attention to the latest Cabinet Office guidance for civil servants which states:
"Following announced school closures, line managers should be fully supportive of employees, considering flexible working arrangements, including working from home, adapting working patterns to care for children. If an employee is required to take time off to care for children due to school closures, paid special leave should be applied."
PCS acknowledges that the roles we carry out in DWP are of vital importance to the millions of citizens who rely on benefits to survive, and we are clear that the pressure our department is currently under due to nearly a million new claims is unprecedented.
As a result we understand the importance of facilitating for as many DWP staff as possible to continue administering the benefits system. In light of this PCS would encourage members to do all they can to find suitable and safe alternative arrangements, if your usual school or childcare provision is not available, and work with your line manager to see what alternatives and flexibilities are available, in line with the above Cabinet Office guidance.
However, if you cannot find a suitable alternative, that ensures the safety and welfare of your child are protected, you should speak to your manager about paid special leave which should be applied in these circumstances.
We will issue further detailed guidance once negotiations are completed, but in the meantime you should continue to raise any issues with your local PCS representative, who can escalate to group if it cannot be resolved locally.