The group executive committee (GEC) is frustrated that DWP chose to publish guidance on “Bringing Customers Safely into our Jobcentres” on the afternoon of 8 September 2020. It was done before we had met with senior management tand althought we were provided with a copy of the guidance on the day of publication, we had no opportunity to discuss or influence the contents.
Sadly, this is not the first time that PCS have had serious concerns regarding poor consultation with DWP in the past few months. At the end of June, the GEC were informed of the Jobcentre Model Office Pilot from PCS reps only for it to be confirmed by DWP the next day when we raised it with them. Subsequently the same happened when DWP decided to extend services in Jobcentres at the beginning of July. PCS negotiators have raised the issue of consultation with senior DWP management at a number of meetings recently and stated that this is unacceptable. Not only are the PCS negotiators being disrespected, but so too are PCS members when the appropriate consultation protocols are not adhered too.
PCS oppose bringing more claimants into Jobcentres
PCS negotiators met with senior DWP management this morning and firstly expressed our disappointment once again at the poor consultation from the employer. We made it absolutely clear that this was not the time to bringing more claimants into Jobcentres given the fact that the number of COVID-19 deaths are on the increase across the country and the R number is above 1 across the UK. Added to that the UK and Scottish Governments have in the past 24 hours announced further restrictions being introduced from next Monday.
PCS have been consistent in our meetings with the employer that not only should DWP not be reopening the Jobcentre network, but they should be enabling as many staff as possible to work from home. The PCS negotiators reminded the employer that almost 80% of our members voted in the Consultative Ballot to support the PCS position that 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit Service Centres should not extend operating hours from 30 November 2020. This ballot was not about the Employee Deal, but was about safety. We have asked the employer, once again, to consider this seriously and put the safety of PCS members and the public first.
The employer confirmed at the meeting that any extra capacity in Jobcentre should be used safely with the safety of staff and the public paramount. They have set no numbers, targets or ratios as Jobcentres are all of different sizes and layouts, but they did say that they wanted all of the newly installed screens to be used. They said that site leaders are empowered to decide on the number of additional customers seen.
Management also confirmed that appointments should still be done by telephone, if possible. That said, they did advise that there are customers who really do require a face-to-face appointment and they will be offered to, but not limited to the following priority groups:
- Identity Verification – claimants self-presenting as unable to engage through digital channels, or referred from specialist teams
- Claimant Commitment for Universal Credit New Claims – for new claims made from 15 July 2020 onwards
- Claimant Commitment for Universal Credit COVID Caseload – for claims made between 1 March-14 July 2020
- Claimant Commitment for JSA New Style New Claims – for new claims made from 3 August 2020 onwards
- Labour Market Interventions for 18-24 year olds
- Labour Market interventions for 25+
- Caseload customers following Labour Market Activation calls before they enter one of the regimes set out above
The employer stated that the constant cleaning of Jobcentres would be vital in bringing in more claimants. However, since the beginning of August, there have 42 occasions when a Jobcentre has closed due to there being no touch point cleaner on site. Another example why PCS do not think the department should be bringing more claimants into Jobcentres and why they should rethink what they are doing. PCS will continue to make the case with senior DWP management that it is irresponsible to open up the Jobcentre network at this time as it is unsafe to do so.
Ironically although this meeting was about bringing people back Safely the way this has been done does not indicate that jobcentre staff’ safety is at the heart of what they are doing. Since this message has gone out there have been managers organizing group sessions and others telling their work coaches to change all their telephone appointments to visit. We’ve been assured that this should not be the case.
Management have said there will be full consultation on the JCFRA with the local TUS. Its important that this review takes in the possibility of group sessions. Its important to look at walkways for customers to get to the screened desks.
They advised that the 2 meter rule must apply at all times other than when a customer was being interviewed at a screen, where the one meter plus rule would apply. Group sessions should not be held unless the 2 meter rule can be applied. Few jobcentres would have a room big enough for this. If yours doesn’t, make sure the JCFRA says no group sessions should be held. They will ask the customer to wear a facemask, although this would not be mandatory. However, if a work coach feels that they are too much danger working with a customer without a mask they can ask to be moved to a safer place to work.
In the JCFRA the local rep needs to decide with the local manager what the site safe maximum capacity is. There are no targets. There should still be the expected cleaning regime between customers, If the cleaning facility and the guarding requirements are not in place the office should not open.
Once again the Department are putting the decision on further opening to the local management. We did point out that we did not think it was fair that local managers carry the can when in a number of cases they are getting pressure from managers above them. It also places the local managers in a precarious position if things go wrong as they could be subject to liability issues. We don’t think this is fair as we know that there are many managers who know this is the wrong time to try and do this.
PCS believes that members’ safety is paramount and therefore we need to ensure that all the safety protocols are in place even though we don’t agree that the way the department are going ahead will ensure our members safety.
We don’t believe that the DWP should be the government's scapegoat for the economic situation.