The thousands who voted in the consultative ballot in August, returning a just short of 80% “yes” vote for action on health and safety, has placed PCS in a strong position during negotiations
We have already used that positive result to make gains against our key demands of withdrawal of the notice to extend services to 8pm and a Saturday, and for no increased footfall in Jobcentres until it was safe to do so.
PCS had robustly pursued these demands and negotiated a pause in the notice to work to 8pm until March and a commitment for Work Coach “empowerment” in Jobcentres. These concessions effectively remove the immediate risk that extending the opening of these offices would bring during the week, and would be a significant step in controlling the face to face requirement for our members in Jobcentres.
Despite these positive measures being agreed they were not enough to satisfy the GEC that sufficient progress had been made to settle our dispute, not least as the autonomy of Work Coaches would still need to be implemented properly and a number of members gave the announcement a cautious welcome, wanting to see it bed in properly before accepting it delivered a control on footfall, and the extension of Saturday working still on the table.
PCS serve notice
In light of this position, the GEC agreed to write to DWP with our remaining demands, with a deadline by which to respond. Following this deadline the GEC, in consultation with a number of branches, took the decision to serve notice of a strike ballot involving a number of workplaces, whilst agreeing to continue with negotiations throughout the week.
Further gains made
The GEC has continued to press DWP strongly on our demands. We have been very clear that the safety of our members is our top priority, and while we welcome the decision around 8pm and the decision to allow Work Coaches the autonomy to decide if claims need to be progressed digitally, by phone or in person, these alone would not satisfactorily mitigate the risk of extended opening and increased face to face activity.
The GEC is pleased to report that as a result of our collective response, using the consultative ballot result, the strong feedback we received from members and branches, the willingness of members in branches to move to a strike ballot, and the forceful pursuit of our demands by GEC negotiators, we have secured further improvements that go some way to mitigate the risk faced by members in Jobcentres and the 21 UCSCs.
The GEC has secured the following agreements as a way forward:
Footfall in Jobcentres
Full autonomy to work coaches to decide how best to progress a customer’s needs, whether it be by telephone, digitally or, only if necessary, face to face. We have also reached agreement to revert back to seeing only the most vulnerable customers face to face, when they cannot be supported by any other means, during both the current lockdown and in Tier 3/equivalent areas, in England, Scotland and Wales.
The combination of both Work Coach “empowerment” and restricted service in the highest risk areas, should go a long way to achieve our demand of no increase in footfall on our front facing offices.
Extended late opening
The department has paused its intent to press ahead with plans to operate to 8pm across many of the 266 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres. We have also reached agreement that existing working patterns, including Covid relaxations, will roll over until next year. This means that no extension of operating hours will take place in these offices, Monday to Friday, no 8pm working will happen in until March 2021 at the earliest, and only staff who have continued to work to 6.30pm throughout the pandemic can be expected to do so from 30 November.
PCS has not agreed to the department’s decision to press ahead with Saturday working in these sites. We maintain our position, that extending operating to 6 days a week in these offices is unnecessary and increases the risk to safety in those workplaces.
We have, however, made progress and have been able to agree to limit the service offered on a Saturday, by appointment only, to those most in need that cannot be seen any other time, with ad-hoc callers being dealt with front of house and signposted on how to progress their claims remotely.
We have also secured for those offices in higher risk Covid areas and/or busier locations that only the most vulnerable customers will be seen, and throughout December these offices will reverting back to the service they provided between March and July.
Still in dispute
Despite the real progress made PCS is still in dispute with the employer, and while we have taken the decision not to proceed to a statutory ballot at this stage we will keep the implementation of all of the above under review, as well as the situation post December.
The GEC will meet next week to review the ongoing situation and review the latest feedback from branches.