A key priority for the union in negotiations with DWP has been the safety and welfare of our members, while also acknowledging the importance of the department's role in protecting those in society who are vulnerable and rely on the benefits system.
In order that we continue to achieve both PCS believes that as many DWP staff as possible should be able to work from home, as the safest way to continue to work during the coronavirus crisis. We have therefore been pushing DWP to secure the equipment to allow as many members to work from home as possible.
Regrettably, DWP started this crisis with only a limited number of laptops available to enable staff to work from home. DWP lagged behind other large government departments, where most staff were quickly able to move from working in the office to home when the crisis began.
DWP has since then worked to increase the numbers who can work from home, but this process is taking much longer than we would have liked.
DWP has now established that core benefit processing tasks on UC can be done from home, as well as receiving calls from claimants, and are working to facilitate this in discussion with Departmental Trade Union Side. They have purchased a large number of laptops and mini PC's (c. 25,000) in recent weeks that will enable thousands more DWP staff to work from home as the safest way to continue paying benefits. However all these new laptops need to be configured onto DWP’s IT systems before they can be used remotely.
DWP will have deployed over 2,000 Surface Pros to people who can work from home by the end of this week and hopes to be able to arrange for around 500 per day to be configured Initially these will be sent by courier to staff currently at home but able to work (e.g. because they are classed as vulnerable). PCS have also asked that high priority is given to staff who live at home or care for relatives who are vulnerable to this virus. Staff will not be asked to come into their office to collect the kit.
DWP is also considering if it may be possible to use the personal IT of staff, presuming of course that staff agree to this and have suitable equipment. However, this is a more difficult technical proposition and also raises concerns over the security of DWP data.
Virtual Service centre
As the numbers of staff working from home increases DWP is creating a virtual service centre. Staff would retain their current line manager who would remain responsible for all personal or HR type issues. In addition there would be a workflow co-ordinator to ensure the flow of work to staff working from home is managed and also a virtual helpdesk that staff can contact with queries.
Staff working from home should, with their line manager, complete the appropriate risk assessment to ensure they are working in a safe environment. Not all members may, for example, be able to accommodate a mini PC at home in the same way that they could a laptop.
This initiative to get more DWP staff working from home is in its early days and all parties are learning as we proceed. Inevitably issues and concerns will arise and if these cannot be resolved with management then they can be referred to PCS via local branches. It is also important that branches keep in contact with members working from home and ensure they are sent PCS briefings where possible.
PCS will continue to prioritise your safety while we do everything we can to support the payment of benefits, and further briefings will be issued to advise and support members through this difficult time.