PCS reps from across the DWP met in Leeds on Saturday 29 July and agreed to continue to campaign against the DWP plans to close a large numbers of DWP offices by March 2018. Reps gave up their own time to attend and report the anger and concerns of their members. The meeting agreed set of demand to put to the DWP And a future campaign plan.
Campaigning gets results
The well attended meeting welcomed news that campaigning by PCS members has won the battle to keep open Glasgow Castlemilk, Edmonton, Glasgow Cambuslang, Newcastle East, South Shields and Plymouth Old Tree Court Jobcentres and Barrow and Bishop Auckland Benefit Centres. But of the proposed closures originally announced in January just a small number have been spared the axe.
Sham consultation condemned
Speakers from all parts of the UK, from Devon to Glasgow and Cardiff to London condemned the public consultation exercise as a sham that had in many cases ignored the views of local MP’s and the public, exposing the government’s austerity policy of putting cuts before providing a quality community service.
Speakers repeatedly stressed that many people depend on the local Job Centre being based in their community and shutting offices will hit the most vulnerable members of society hardest. PCS is demanding that DWP immediately publishes its Equality Impact Assessment on each site that is being closed to show the adverse effect on the neediest.
The back office closures include sites where compulsory redundancies are highly likely, at Poole, Wembley, Llanelli, Cumnock and Annesley.
PCS industrial officer Charles Law said it was outrageous that DWP has decided to push its own workforce into redundancy at a time when offices need more staff not fewer. This is a terrible reward for all the years of hard service the members in these offices have given to the department.
DWP has also announced the harshest possible ‘hub strategy’ for the corporate centre. Closing Birchwood and Preston Holborn House and insisting that all ‘core’ corporate centre staff will have to work in one of the six designated hub locations every working day. Many corporate centre staff are outside of mobility for the hubs meaning redundancies are now highly likely.
The Corporate Centre has worked well for years with many staff based in locations all over the country. There is no valid reason for refusing to allow these staff to continue to do so.
PCS utterly condemns the DWP for proceeding with these office closures. Alongside widespread support from MPs at an excellent lobby of parliament the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales have also condemned the closures.
The meeting applauded reps from Sheffield where our members have taken 11 days of strike action against the closure of Eastern Avenue Jobcentre, with more action planned in August. Further strike action is now also planned in Whitley Bay, Farnworth, Southall and Hoylake over the next few weeks.
Building for action
The meeting agreed to put demands to the DWP to:
- Withdraw People and Locations office closure plans
- Withdraw corporate centre hub strategy
- Agree to reopen talks with PCS with a view to seeking to reach agreement on a future estates strategy
- Agree that there should be no compulsory redundancies
- Agree that there should be no compulsory relocations outside of mobility
- Agree to carry out full new equality impact assessment and Health and Safety review jointly with PCS.
- Agree to commit to a properly resourced and staffed social security system.
There was an excellent debate with reps agreeing to use these demands to build the campaign and continue to fight the cuts.
Many reps reported that offices need more staff and members are under stress from pressure of work. The meeting agreed to emphasize not just the need to keep offices open but the urgent need for more staff to provide quality service to the public.
PCS DWP Group President Fran Heathcote said: “We are not going to stand by and negotiate the closure of 1 in 10 jobcentres. We will protect our members, oppose austerity and campaign for a fully funded and staffed social security system.”