DWP has announced its intention to extend operating hours in some other parts of the department.
From 14 October 2019 International Pensions Group at Tyne View Park, all of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Dispute Resolution Teams working on PIP will extend operating hours to 8pm on Monday to Friday, with associated telephony lines being open to 7.30 pm.
Also from 14 October 2019 the DWP Visiting North East team, including Y&H members, will extend operating hours to include Saturdays, but not evenings. It is unclear at this stage how many sites in the North East will be affected as PCS await this information.
PCS remains unconvinced that DWP has shown evidence of a genuine increase in customer demand for extending operating hours in this way and have pressed the employer hard for the evidence to support this decision. All the data continues to suggest that the overwhelming majority of DWP customers want to contact the department during ‘traditional’ operating hours with current contact after 5pm remaining low.
PCS is also disappointed that DWP have decided to extend operating hours further before it has even started the ‘Test and Learn’ trials that it announced last year. We would have expected the department to test extended hours, and then learn the lessons as appropriate, before deciding to escalate further in other parts of the department.
PCS believes that this latest announcement is more about the department extending hours to show the Treasury and others that they are doing something for the additional money offered by Employee Deal rather than a demand from DWP customers for longer opening hours. It is hard to imagine, for example, that a PIP customer with an appeal being handled by the PIP DRT team would be concerned whether the appeal was handled at 10am or 7pm as long as it was being processed timeously.
PCS has continued to stress the importance of the department being able to justify any extension of hours to our members. While we acknowledge the extra money thousands of members have received since 2016 was for a contractual change, which allowed for extended operating hours, the collective agreement we negotiated is clear in there needing to be a genuine customer demand before implementing any such extension.
PCS would remind members that the safeguards contained within paragraphs 13(h)(i) of the collective agreement ensure staff cannot be forced to commit to hours or days they cannot work. These safeguards go beyond the legal minimum standards and should be used if necessary to allow members to offer the times they can commit to.
PCS has successfully used the collective agreement to implement these safeguards and prevent DWP rolling out a "big bang" approach right across the department, which could have seen all directorates move to extend operating hours from October 2017.
We understand that will be of little comfort for the members affected by this announcement, or to those on previously announced test and learns, and PCS will continue to use the consultation process to highlight our concerns concerning a lack of demand as well as exploring any health and safety issues that come to light.
We urge all members affected by these announcements to raise any concerns through their local PCS branch, who in turn should escalate these issues to group office so we can take them forward with the employer.
We will continue to use the collective agreement to safeguard our members and ask that genuine concerns are flagged up with the group as soon as possible so they can be addressed.