PCS opposes the unsafe rush to extend Jobcentre services: your Health and Safety Rights

03 Jul 2020

In a survey PCS members working in Jobcentres have opposed the planned extension of services to the public on safety grounds by a massive majority. Details of your health and safety rights are provided

85% of PCS members say they will not feel safe if front facing activity is increased because of the continuing covid 19 risks. PCS has told DWP that it is not safe to extend Jobcentre service. It is shocking that DWP management are willing to put lives at risk by rushing this through. There is no good reason for such a rush. As always PCS wants a negotiated and agreed solution but a lot more time is needed to discuss and sort out an agreed risk assessment and for trials of any extension to Jobcentre services. Yet management insist on a mad rush to extend service from next week. PCS will always put the safety of you and the public first. This briefing sets out your rights in terms of health and safety at work and explains what PCS is doing to protect you.  

The Health and Safety at work Act

PCS is making full use of the Health and Safety at Work Act (HASAWA) 1974. HASAWA lays down wide-ranging duties on employers. Employers must protect the 'health, safety and welfare' of all their employees as well as visitors and the general public.

The Risk Assessment is not agreed and not safe 

The HASAWA gives union Health and Safety representative’s rights to inspect the workplace and carry out risk assessments. The DWP are legally required to fully consult your union health and safety representatives about a risk assessment. The DWP have unreasonably rushed to extend Jobcentre services and only provided PCS with a draft risk assessment on Monday 29 June leaving insufficient time for proper consultation required by law. PCS has proposed extensive improvements to the risk assessment. In a series of very frustrating meetings the DWP have rejected a number of our improvements. Despite our best efforts the risk assessment has not been agreed. The failure to have an agreed risk assessment is down to DWP's hurry to rush through their decision and refusal to accept reasonable improvements proposed by PCS. We do not believe that it  adequately protects your health and safety. A risk assessment must now be done and the agreed in your Jobcentre by your local PCS Health and Safety rep with local management before any extension of services. PCS does not believe  that the national risk assessment  is safe nor  fit for purpose.

Union inspection notices

Where necessary, and if risk assessments cannot be agreed, local PCS reps will serve Union Inspection Notices (UIN) to give the DWP notice that they must respond to our health and safety concerns. A UIN is a formal notice on employers where it has been identified that there has been a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and calls for immediate action. PCS is resending guidance to your PCS reps about how to complete a UIN. 

Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

At regulation 8 the HASAWA 1999 provide for protection if workers feel they are in "serious and imminent danger".

This means that if you don’t feel it is safe at the front of house under these regulations you can ask the employer to move you to a safe place to work until the proper consultation on the risk assessments has taken place and the office has an agreed JCFRA.

For example, if you feel unsafe dealing with the public face to face, due to the lack of the necessary control measures, you could ask under these regulations to be moved to the back of house.  However, if you could not work back of house for some reason such as you could not maintain social distancing safely, then you could ask for kit to enable you to work from home until such time as the office was made safe.  If a number of people feel this way then you can ask your trade union rep to intercede on your behalf using safety legislation.

Management have a duty of care to protect your safety and there are liability issues if they don’t get this right.  They also have a legal responsibility to consult on risk assessments and to listen to trade unions on these and to give comprehensive reasons of why they can’t put the union recommendations in place.

Legal rights of members

If, despite all of our best efforts through  negotiations, risk assessments and UINs to make workplaces safe, and if despite any safety measures implemented by the employer, you feel that your workplace is unsafe, then you have certain rights under the law.

The union has prepared a briefing on your rights in this scenario which is contained here. Those rights include the right under  Sections 44 and 100 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA) to protection  from detriment and/or dismissal for leaving or refusing to return to a place of work in circumstances where you reasonably believe that you or others are in  serious and imminent danger, or where you take  steps to protect yourselves  or others. If you reasonably believe that you are in serious and imminent danger contact leeds@pcs.org.uk and a PCS Full Time Official will contact you and provide advice.

All PCS members working in our Jobcentres, who we hold a personal email address for, will receive an email from the union in the next 24 hours giving more detailed advice on your rights under health and safety legislation. If you have not provided the union with your personal email address then please do so as soon as possible.


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