PCS condemns decision to extend operating hours in Universal Credit from 30 November
DWP has announced its intention to extend operating hours to 8pm on weekdays, and to Saturdays, at 21 Universal Credit service centres and 270 larger job centres, from 30 November 2020.
Other parts of the department not working on UC will not be affected. UC service centres delivering national services will be excluded from this extension, as will smaller Job Centres.
PCS believes that it is irresponsible to even consider doing this while the country remains in the grip of the pandemic. With many eminent scientists warning of a second spike of Covid 19 in the winter months it would be putting the safety of our members at risk to extend operating hours in this way.
No customer demand
PCS does not accept that there is evidence of customer demand on any significant scale for DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays. Where opening hours in job centres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the job centres reverted to their normal opening hours. The fact that there are now more UC claimants does not mean they will now want to communicate with DWP at different times of the day.
DWP has said that telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, which is welcome. But it does beg the question as to why staff will be expected to stay to 8pm when no calls will be received after 6pm and any processing work could as easily be done earlier in the day.
No clarity on job centre opening hours
DWP is unclear what this will mean for job centre opening hours after 5pm. When pressed on this by PCS UC management’s response was to say that this would be a matter for the local leadership and not be decided at a national level, though they did say that job centres will be open to the public on Saturdays.
As with deciding to reopen job centres, national management have abdicated responsibility and instead pushed the responsibility down to job centre managers to decide whether to open after 5 pm. PCS believes there is no justification in extending the hours the doors in job centres will be open to after 5pm. Any claimant who can only be seen after 5pm could be seen on a by exception basis.
DWP intends to use the 5 weeks from 27 July to 30 August to seek staff’s preferences and hold team discussions to enable them to issue a six monthly working pattern to all UC staff at the end of August to give staff the three months’ notice of their working pattern prior to 30 November.
Unfair treatment of Part Year staff
In deciding this timetable management have ignored the fact that most part year staff will not be at work for the whole of the 5 week planning period when their working pattern will be decided. This excludes them entirely from the planning process that decides when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays.
Despite claiming to consider equality issues to be of great importance DWP has again shown that in practice it does not care about equality and is prepared to put part year staff at a significant disadvantage. When pressed on this by PCS, DWP did not even acknowledge that this was a problem, simply saying that they have to start sometime. It is disgraceful to treat part year staff so disrespectfully,
Safeguards will apply
PCS will ensure that all the safeguards negotiated as part of the Employee Deal will continue to apply including:
- No more than one late finish in 5 working days
- No more than one Saturday in 4 weeks
- Not to fix both ends of the day
- Assumed consent to continue to apply
- Staff to be able to choose the day that they have off in either the week preceding, or following, any Saturday worked. This includes the Monday following the Saturday.
- Not to make staff work more than 5 days in a working week
- Staff to continue to have access to the Independent Panel to resolve disputes over working patterns.
Opted out staff cannot be made to work beyond their contractual working hours or contractual working days.
PCS is particularly concerned about the health and safety issues raised by extended working, realising that many of DWP’s offices are located in areas where it is unsafe to be leaving work at 8pm, or where Saturday working may cause additional risk. PCS will be pressing for site by site risk assessments to be held as soon as possible. Branches who believe they have a site that should be excluded from late or Saturday working on safety grounds should notify Group office.
PCS understands that this announcement will be very unwelcome for our members in the sites that are affected. PCS will continue to argue that now is not the right time to extend operating hours and will seek further clarification on the safety and equality concerns that we have. In doing this we will seek to arrange virtual meetings were we can with reps and members. Branches are encouraged to hold on site meetings with members, as long as social distancing can be ensured.