The Group Executive Committee (GEC) recently met with managers from Disability Services and Dispute Resolution Directorate (DSDRD).
Rolling recruitment continues
With the LEAP work, the directorate continues to be understaffed, and in the position of regularly recruiting additional staff.
Ordinarily this would be good news, but in some areas recruitment has now opened for permanent jobs when there are still significant numbers of fixed term contract staff. Ideally, these staff should have been made permanent prior to, or at least at the same time as, the additional recruitment began. A related issue is that where staff are not given some notice that permanency is likely or is being sought, they are left to apply for whatever other permanent jobs exist at the time, even where that means long commutes. There was no work done to exhaust the current waiting lists for posts before adverts for permanent AO and EO jobs were issued. All of this has caused a great deal of stress for our members.
GEC negotiators left national DSDRD managers under no illusion as to the level of unhappiness caused by this failure to properly plan recruitment. They received an assurance that the permanent jobs being offered would have no bearing on the continuing business case which is ongoing to consider making FTAs permanent. The decisions on permanency for our FTA members so far are only being made for those members whose contract ends before 31 March 2019 and are being looked at on a site by site ongoing basis. PCS made clear that this work needs to be done as quickly as possible for all FTAs and especially in sites where recruitment is being considered, before adverts are issued. It is a waste of resources and stressful for our members to make all FTAs go through a recruitment process again when they have already been recruited with a clause in their contracts that allows them to be made permanent. Directorate management stated that because of the number of exercises that have taken place in South East Wales that they would take a flexible approach to accommodating requests from individual members who would have applied for jobs in a different site closer to home if they had known about the plans in advance. This is subject to space being available to accommodate staff but should provide solutions for members. Any members affected in this way should raise the issue with their team leader and their local union rep.
Performance: approach continues to be quality-driven
Issues from Chorlton had been highlighted to the GEC, including misuse of management information (MI) such as Average Handling Time. Directorate-level managers have reaffirmed the correct approach, which is that no conversations with staff are to be based simply on numbers.
There is variation between sites in the average handling times but there can be a variety of reasons for this including the experience levels of staff. In some cases the more experienced members are able to deal with more whilst the claimant is on the call which can take more time. Average handling time being looked at across the sites can help provide an insight to look at the reasons for the variation more closely which can include better processes in some sites, different experience levels, where members could benefit from more support in managing the calls as well as the normal variations between calls. All of which can be used to improve how the calls are dealt with for all the sites using the best practices. At no point, however, should managers or team leaders simply be telling staff that their handling time is “too high” and insisting that it should be reduced without a clear understanding of how to do that.
GEC negotiators raised concerns about how much MI can be gathered from the Next Generation Contact Centre system and the potential for managers locally to slip back into “old ways”, i.e. the failed micro-management methods of the old contact centre directorate. Senior DSDRD management agreed with the GEC negotiators that this should not be happening. Managers took away an action to look into the cases escalated from Chorlton. If any other site has issues in this regard, then raise it locally and escalate to the GEC if no suitable response is received.
PIP telephony and processing
We have previously informed members about the trials in Sunderland, Wales DBC and Telford on how to organise processing and telephony work, with the creation of blocks of time for each and rotating between the two. The route managers are intending to go down is three rotations, of 5 weeks for processing, FRM and inbound telephony. The evidence, according to MI, is that this has reduced the handovers and has improved staff and claimant satisfaction while at the same time reducing the number of outstanding tasks. The final evaluation will be sent to negotiators but we also want feedback from the branches covering the 3 sites about how the pilots have actually gone and what has been positive or negative for our members so that we can take these issues forward.
The GEC has been notified of specific cases, outside the three test and learn sites, where members have reported increases in the amount of time they are spending on telephony and less time on processing. On the surface, this seems to be contradicted by national figures, but branches are encouraged to seek views from members and to feed these into the GEC, as the experience of front line staff is more important than the figures, and GEC reps will try and identify the cause of any difference between the two.
Overtime and flexi
This is being offered fairly constantly in the directorate, including in-week overtime and weekend overtime. Managers have agreed to reiterate the DWP Policy and the Collective Agreement for Working Time Regulations (i.e. that staff should have one day in seven off or two days in fourteen) and all branches are encouraged to monitor the situation.
What this should also mean, in the overwhelming majority of cases, is that staff should be encouraged to build flexi. A number of sites have been in touch about local issues in this regard. So far as national tier managers are concerned, restricting flexi accumulation is perverse when there’s a flood of overtime available. Branches should now be able to address this locally – but if a block continues on individuals being able to accrue flexi, then this should be escalated to the GEC.
DRT: Warm Handovers and Bundle Builder
An initial decision had previously been taken without consultation to share out warm handover work from the two sites that currently deal with this work, so that all DRT sites would have a small volume of telephone handovers to deal with throughout the day. The decision was paused and consultation will now occur; DRT managers are doing a bit of work to identify exactly how many phone calls are involved, and GEC negotiators will be seeking to ensure that if this work is shared out, the manner in which that happens does not impact the sensible way that ED end of day arrangements have been handled in the vast majority of DRT areas.
Trials of “Bundle Builder” have concluded at Newcastle and Belle Vale. The purpose of the programme is to digitalise the Appeals admin team work. Reception was mixed to positive on the part of members, though managers are clear that it does reduce the time spent on admin tasks. The rollout of this is temporarily delayed while an evaluation is completed and while funding is secured for the provision of dual screens to all staff. Having a dual screen is optional. Standard DSE risk assessments should be carried out. Alternative options should be available to any staff with VI needs.
The directorate has been working to identify ways in which DSDRD work can be supported through peaks of demand. Corporate Centre resources have been identified as one way to do this, and a few dozen volunteers at Quarry House are either already trained or will be given training so that when there is pressure, they can be asked to help out.
Access to Work
DSDRD management gave an update on AtW stating that the work in the part of the directorate is going forward smoothly without issues. Changes in support are being handled well including the changes with the work choices programme and the extra employer support grant. Any issues in AtW that cannot be resolved locally should be fed into GEC negotiators
Extended Opening Hours
Negotiations on extended opening hours continue with the national PCS ED negotiating team, DSDRD managers have agreed to share their implementation plans but they believe all bases are covered, so far as ordinary running of sites is concerned – e.g. risk assessments, provision of security and any work with commercial services on which staff rely such as Tech Now. GEC negotiators continue to make the case that there is no operational demand for extended opening hours in DLA, AtW or IIDB and will be monitoring the situation, especially the impact on services to the public from the start of the day.
Reasonable adjustments and assistive software
Senior DSDRD management are taking a proactive approach to support staff in this directorate who are having problems with reasonable adjustments or assistive software. GEC negotiators have consistently raised that we would expect the DWP as an employer to lead the way to support staff with disabilities. So we have welcomed this approach from the DSDRD management especially as the directorate that gives support to the public with disabilities. Any branches with members who work in DSDRD who are experiencing problems getting the support with assistive technology they need should highlight with managers locally that work is now being done to resolve any difficulties. If there are any difficulties progressing this locally then reps should escalate to GEC negotiators.