Safety Dispute

20 Oct 2020

DWP withdraws update that confirmed 6.30pm from 30 November 2020

Members Bulletin, DWP/137/20, provided an update on discussions with senior DWP managers on their decision to extend operating hours at 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit Service Centres from 30 November 2020 and increase footfall across Jobcentres. The bulletin also advised members that following constructive talks with senior DWP managers, PCS achieved concessions aimed at settling our safety dispute.

The Group Executive Committee (GEC) met on Monday 5 October 2020 to discuss the offer from DWP. Whilst acknowledging the initial positive feedback from members and local reps regarding the “empowerment” of Work Coaches, there has been widespread disappointment at the decision not to remove the extension of operating hours on Saturday’s from 30 November 2020, while the country is still in the grip of this pandemic.

The GEC are clear that the union negotiators robust pursuit of our demands,  coupled with the strong consultative ballot result and anger shown by members in response to the increase in face to face appointments were responsible for the concessions offered by DWP and unanimously agreed that PCS should continue to pursue our demand to delay the extension of operating hours on a Saturday until it is safe to do so, and explore further DWP's commitment to consider working from home as an option on a Saturday.

DWP correct 6.30pm message in staff comms

The GEC was extremely disappointed that an Implementation Update was issued on 6 October 2020 advising staff at those sites who were initially planning to operate extended hours from 30 November 2020 that they would still be expected to work until 6.30pm weekdays instead of 8pm. The update stated that, “Anyone who had agreed to work until 8pm on specific days will now be required to work until 6.30pm on those days. Sites will need to adjust their staffing working patterns to enable the individuals effected to make up the remaining 90 minutes within their working week.”

PCS immediately raised this with DWP and made clear our strong objection to this proposal. We highlighted that at no point in negotiations or in the DWP's letter to the union did they mention that staff at the 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres would now be expected to work until 6.30pm on weekdays instead of 8pm. GEC negotiators met with senior DWP managers on 6 October 2020 at which we robustly made the position that as far as working hours is concerned, the status quo must remain. This would mean that staff continue working the hours that they are currently working, not those notified from April 2020 if it had not been for the pandemic.

PCS is pleased to confirm that at a further meeting with DWP on 9 October, the employer confirmed the message in the original Implementation Update was an error and agreed to correct the message, issuing a revised document categorically reiterating that the sites affected will; “now pause the movement to 8pm extended opening hours on weekdays, maintain the current relaxations introduced as part of the COVID response, and for members who had agreed a working pattern that included 8pm finishes, those arrangements will no longer be implemented. Instead, they will continue to work to their patterns currently in operation, taking into account their commitment to work Saturday." 

The employer also stated that there would be quarterly reviews of operating hours that will be conducted in consultation with PCS, the first of which would be in January 2021 at the earliest. The revised Update also confirms that Jobcentres will not open beyond 5pm at least until the need to extend hours is reviewed in the New Year.

Ensuring concessions are implemented

The GEC welcome the decision of DWP to correct the implementation messages and will continue to ensure that this issue and the concessions achieved are implemented fully. Worryingly, the GEC have been contacted by a number of branches over the past week advising that the “empowerment” of Work Coaches has not been implemented successfully. The GEC have provided DWP with the name of every Jobcentre where we have been informed DWP have not implemented Work Coach autonomy and will continue to do so. The department has responded to each example we had escalated and sought to resolve any local implementation issues. If branches believe any of the concessions agreed by the employer are not being adhered to they should raise these immediately with local management and email so we can escalate to senior DWP management. 


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