The government’s plans to extend hours in 21 Universal Credit service centres and jobcentre hours until 8pm on weekdays and increase face-to face contact with the public will be put to PCS members in a consultative ballot running from 17 August to 7 September.
We represent tens of thousands of civil servants working for DWP who have been working flat out during lockdown, supporting claimants to access Universal Credit, benefits and employment support.
However, with ministers insisting jobcentres should open to the public, including beyond normal office hours without consulting us or doing a proper risk assessment, PCS has decided to a consultative ballot to get the views of all union members working in jobcentres and the 21 Universal Credit service centres. A further statutory ballot would have to be held and reach the 50% turnout threshold for any strike action to go ahead.
DWP has informed PCS that 270 jobcentres and 21 UC service centres will extend their operating hours to 8pm and Saturdays from 30 November. It could also be extended to other offices in the future.
Ballots will be sent out by email to members who have registered a personal email address for an online vote, while those who do not have a registered email address will receive a postal ballot paper, which they will need to complete and post to the independent scrutineer.
We are urging members to vote yes to support our demands on:
- Safety – during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to reopen jobcentres to the public at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk.
- Equality for part-year members – deciding to hold a 5-week planning period when most part-year staff will not be at work will undoubtedly put those members at a disadvantage when their working patterns will be decided. They will be excluded from the planning process that determines when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. DWP has failed to carry out an equality analysis which is directly disadvantaging those members with a protective characteristic who will be absent from work during the month of August.
- Failure to identify a business requirement – PCS does not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand for DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays from the end of November.
- Failure to meaningfully consult with the unions – During the pandemic PCS has met DWP at least twice a week and successfully negotiated improvements for staff on a wide range of issues such as health and safety, annual leave and personnel policy changes. DWP is required to meaningfully consult PCS on any proposed change to opening hours. Appallingly DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours and has made clear that it does not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it.
We have written to the DWP to demand:
- It withdraws its notice to staff to extend operating hours.
- There is no escalation of footfall in the jobcentre estate and only interviews with those identified as the most vulnerable are conducted in jobcentres throughout the course of the pandemic.
- Changes put in place during the pandemic, which have allowed the focus to be on paying benefits to those who need them, continue with no escalation in labour market activity.
- Meaningful consultation on the demand to extend services and the risk assessment process to take place nationally prior to any formal notice issued to staff.
- A full equality analysis to be carried out on both the extended hours and re-opening of Jobcentres in consultation with PCS and identified risks fully mitigated.
If DWP does not agree to our demands by 17 August we have made clear we will be in dispute.
What do I do if I haven’t got a ballot paper?
Members should allow until Tuesday 25 August to receive their ballot paper, before requesting a replacement.
Email Leeds@pcs.org.uk and include your personal email address and home address.
Not a member? Join PCS by 28 August and you will be eligible to vote.