Festive leave

As is the case every year, there are members who will be happy with the outcome and those who aren’t. The decision by DWP to include non-working days (NWD) in the percentages allowed off has not helped the situation, resulting in a large number of members not having their preferences approved. PCS made our objections to this clear, however the employer refused to change their position. This article will cover reports from across oOperations.

Universal Credit

The percentage levels for festive leave in Universal Credit Service Centres and jobcentres are as follows:

  • 16 –19 December 2019 – 30%
  • 20 December 2019 – 35%
  • 23 December 2019 – 35%
  • 24 and 27 December 2019 – 40%
  • 30 – 31 December 2019 – 45%
  • 2 January 2020 – 40%
  • 3 January 2020 – 30%

Senior Universal Credit management has adopted a consistent approach that it state worked well last year. It has used demand data to identify the percentage of leave appropriate, not including non-working days which it states in service centres will be the maximum amount of staff they feel they can allow off to protect core services. However, they have agreed to provide discretion to jobcentre managers to use the percentages as a minimum level of leave. Management has advised that this will allow local knowledge of demographic for a tailored approach, balancing the needs and health and safety of colleagues in smaller offices.

As a result of pressure from PCS, senior Universal Credit management took away our concerns and agreed to revisit arrangements to assure us that they had applied all principles in the spirit they were intended in every effort to maximise the time colleagues have off over the Festive Leave whilst balancing the need to provide essential services. As a result, the following assurances were given by senior Universal Credit management:

  • Universal Credit Service Centre has identified 5 hotspot sites where on certain days the proposed percentages do not offer as much flexibility as in other sites. Relaxing the percentages in these sites accordingly to maximise leave opportunities. These sites are Stratford, York, Bishop Auckland, Grimsby and Lowestoft.
  • In Scotland Universal Credit One Service has revisited the percentages offered on 3 January 2020 and increased from 30% with the proviso that they will look to flex resource to support national services delivered from Milton SC.
  • Leaders for Jobcentres have all revisited the ask that the percentages are treated as a minimum in an effort to flex potential leave levels.

There can be no doubt that a large number of members working in Universal Credit will be disappointed by the percentages allowed off this year. Clearly as there is reduced signing activity over the festive period, there shouldn’t be the requirement to have the amount of staff in Jobcentres that DWP insist on. Also, service centre members will be rightly angry as the percentage levels set by management are a maximum. Therefore, not allowing flexibilities that are available elsewhere in operations.

Legacy benefits

The GEC made clear in our discussions with legacy benefits management that we were disappointed that the percentage levels allowed off were roughly the same as Universal Credit. This is despite Universal Credit having higher staffing levels to release payments unlike legacy benefits where the bulk advance payments are issued automatically. The percentage levels set in legacy benefits are as follows:

  • 16 – 19 December 2019 – 30%
  • 20 December 2019 – 35%
  • 23 December 2019 – 35%
  • 24 and 27 December 2019 – 40%
  • 30 and 31 December 2019 – 45%
  • 2 and 3 January 2020 – 35%

It is clear that senior legacy benefits management are concerned at the backlog of work in Social Fund, Maternity Allowance and ESA and as a result are reluctant to approve all the applications for festive leave this year. This means that many hardworking and overstretched telephony staff have not got the festive leave that they want. The GEC opposed the divisive way that leave had been decided with more pressure falling on hard-pressed members on telephony to reduce their requests for leave. The pool of staff who can help deal with the calls is much wider than just the members currently working on telephony. Members should not be penalised for the job they are doing. The GEC urged management to have another look at what work could be done in the weeks leading up to the festive period, in order that telephony staff could get more time off at the time that they want.

Retirement Services (RSD)

The GEC has been in discussion with RSD highlighting the concerns of members. We held our first discussions on 3 September in an effort to ensure that adequate planning was undertaken and to maximise the leave levels offered to members. As in the national level talks and in all of the other directorates the GEC made clear our opposition to the inclusion of non-working days (NWDs) in the calculation of the levels permitted. Management’s view was that the NWDs were included as part of a national level decision and so could not be re-visited at the RSD talks and that their figures are based on the numbers needed to process the work and take the calls expected. Their position was therefore that the inclusion of NWDs in the calculation made no difference to the actual numbers who would be required in on any given day. The GEC rejected this argument as although the final numbers may be the same the inclusion of NWDs when calculating the requirements on a network, site or team basis would mean that it would be more difficult for members on teams with a higher mix of part-time and part-year workers to get time off.

Management shared its projections for work demand on 21 October to inform further discussions and subsequently made their initially suggested % levels of:

  • Week commencing 16 December – 40%
  • Week commencing 23 December – 50%
  • 30 December – 40%
  • 31 December – 45%
  • 2 January – 35%
  • 3 January – 35%

Following further discussion with the GEC and pressure from members RSD moved to:

  • Week commencing 16 December – 40%
  • Week commencing 23 December – 50%
  • 30 December – 50%
  • 31 December – 50%
  • 2 January – 35%
  • 3 January – 35%

Whilst the GEC welcomed further flexibility on 30 and 31 December, we made clear that we did not believe that this would be enough, particularly for our members in Scotland given that their most popular days for time off during this period, around Hogmanay, had much lower levels than the weeks leading up to and over Christmas. The GEC wrote to RSD management making these points again on 22 November, highlighting the feedback we’d received from RSD members and calling for further flexibility to be granted.

Regrettably at the time of writing RSD has failed to provide any positive response to share with our members.

CMG

The GEC wrote to CMG on 9 September to schedule talks with CMG to discuss leave levels over the Christmas and New Year period.

On 1 October CMG shared its proposals with the GEC which were an improvement from initial proposals they had shared in September for 2 and 3 January:

  • Week commencing 16 December – 50% of all colleagues working
  • 23 to 31 December inclusive – 50% of all colleagues working
  • From 2 January in England and Wales and 3 January in Scotland – 70% of all colleagues working given the expected increased customer contact following the Christmas/New Year break, based on historic customer behavior

The GEC issued a circular to members updating them on the discussions on 4 October and highlighted our concerns and sought feedback from members.

As in the national level talks and in all of the other directorates the GEC made clear our opposition to the inclusion of non-working days (NWDs) in the calculation of the levels permitted. Management’s view was that the NWDs were included as part of a national level decision and so could not be re-visited at the CMG talks, and that their figures are based on the numbers needed to process the work and take the calls expected. Their position was therefore the inclusion of NWDs in the calculation made no difference to the actual numbers who would be required in on any given day. The GEC rejected this argument as although the final numbers may be the same the inclusion of NWDs when calculating the requirements on a network, site or team basis would mean that it would be more difficult for members on teams with higher mix of part-time and part-year workers to get time off.

As a result of the inclusion of NWDs in the calculation the GEC received numerous reports from branches of members unhappy with the inclusion of NWDs. There were even reports of the restrictions meaning cases of only 1 or two people on entire teams are having access to leave on certain days and in some instances members being told there would be none at all! The GEC challenged CMG regarding this and the agreed that this should not be the case and would investigate and address any such instances.

CMG decided to close the phone lines on the England and Wales privilege day, on 27 December, but keep them open on the Scotland privilege day, on 2 January as the number of staff based in Scotland would be too few to take all of the calls from across the whole of the CMG network on 27 December. The GEC argued that a fairer solution would be to close the lines on both days in order to focus on processing work which is outstanding, particularly on getting any work to issue money to receiving parents, as this would be helpful in reducing call volumes for the rest of the period. The GEC asked CMG to re-consider their position on opening the phone lines on 2 January and offer further flexibility on the % levels. Regrettably CMG have so far not agreed to our demand.

Disability Services

The GEC was pleased that the talks with Disability Services (DS) management resulted in agreement of all requests over the Festive Period (with a small number of individual exceptions at HEO level which were managed locally). DS management agreed to increase the levels they had initially proposed after looking at the requested leave levels and comparing these to projected demand and in consultation with the GEC agreed to accept the increase to allow the members their requests.

This decision was welcomed by the GEC.

CFCD

In Counter Fraud and Compliance Directorate (CFCD) PCS was not consulted until much of the festive leave was agreed. However, we understand that leave levels in the investigations areas of CFCD were higher than in previous years as management correctly understood there would be a limited demand during the festive period. In (National Insurance Number Online) NINO, lower leave levels were permitted but we understand that ‘flexibilities’ have been applied at the time meaning that there were no issues escalated to national PCS. In debt management, the percentages were even lower than NINO, management attempted to justify these levels because of demand on the service. This is part of the increasingly pressurised working experience for our members in debt management, it is clear to PCS that significant recruitment is required.

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