Great support for UC service centre strikes

11 Mar 2019

A strike by PCS members in Universal Credit over unmanageable workloads has been strongly supported with a great turnout on picket lines and a solidarity message from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The strikers at Walsall and Wolverhampton UC service centres are taking action today and tomorrow over workloads and staff recruitment.

274 DWP staff were balloted for strike action at Wolverhampton and Walsall service centres with over 90% of those who took part, voting ‘yes.”

The beleaguered service has faced severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated.

The 5 key demands from Universal Credit workers are as follows:

  • 5,000 new staff, permanency for our fixed term staff
  • Limit the number of phone calls per case manager
  • Limit the size of the national telephony hub; no to contact centres, yes to service centres.
  • Improve consultation – no changes to our offices without union agreement.
  • Quality-focused approach – no more management by statistics.

Management limited offer

DWP met with PCS to make some offers of limited changes, which did not include any increase in staffing. DWP is recruiting an additional 72 staff at the sites already, based on increasing caseloads, but the existing caseloads and the existing numbers of calls are the problem. A small number of additional staff, when the number of claimants will go up by over a million by the end of 2019, simply will not provide enough support to our hard-pressed members.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka: “People who work with the most vulnerable in society never take strike action lightly and our members in Universal Credit are no exception. 

“However DWP management has refused to negotiate properly only offering to move work out of Wolverhampton on a temporary basis to other UC hubs. This ‘sharing the pain’ approach by bosses is not going to wash amongst our members and is likely to inflame tensions further. 

“What DWP bosses need to do is get back round the negotiating table and actually start listening to the genuine concerns from the experts in all this – the workforce.”

Corbyn’s message

In the message from the leader of the opposition, read out on the Wolverhampton picket line today by acting PCS president Fran Heathcote, he praised the strikers for their “dedication to public service” and urged management to engage with PCS and find a resolution to this dispute.  

“I send my solidarity to all those taking strike action at Universal Credit service centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton. Your dedication to public service is inspiring and the Labour party stands with you.

“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly and have security at work. Taking strike action is a fundamental right of all workers and those taking action do not do so lightly. The lack of consultation with staff regarding changes in work is absolutely unacceptable and I urge management to engage with PCS and find a resolution to this dispute.

"Not only is Universal Credit failing claimants, the government is also failing the DWP staff who work so hard. PCS members have my full support and the Labour party will continue to defend the work you do providing such a vital service to the public.”

Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith also sent a solidarity message and said: "We need investment, adequate staffing, and a system that treats everyone with dignity and respect."

The PCS parliamentary group sent a message praising our members for their “remarkable resilience and stoicism in the face of impossible Universal Credit workloads and intransigent DWP management".

Send messages of support to and donate online to the PCS Fighting Fund.

Urge your MP to sign early day motion 2126 which calls on the government to listen to the concerns of frontline staff members and ensure that sufficient permanent staff are recruited across all UC service centres to enable claimants to receive the support that they deserve.

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