PCS is warning that reopening jobcentres as early as next week could create a perfect storm as staff and customers are faced with lack of social distancing, inadequate personal protective equipment and the real risk of Covid-19 being brought into workplaces.
Added to this is the fact that benefit sanctions, suspended during the pandemic, are set to be reinstated on Wednesday (1 July) and that around 2.5 million new claimants, many of whom received Universal Credit payments when their livelihoods were affected by the pandemic, will be navigating a system that few of them have experience of.
While the reopening is understood to be gradual, involving possibly 3 centres next week, a lack of adequate protection for staff and customers could lead to pandemonium.
For PCS our members’ safety is paramount. We have made it clear to DWP that any move to reinstate the jobcentre network, beyond its emergency coronavirus provision now is premature while the threat from the virus remains all too real and we have called on them to delay it until it is safe. Any proposal to do so would put our members at greater risk of contracting the virus and would in all likelihood mean bringing the virus into the workplace.
While DWP management has made clear telephone and technology are exopected to be the default method of claimants contacting DWP, the department does want to start interviews with more customers in jobcentres. This will be through an appointment system put in place to manage increase footfall but if the doors are open anyone can come in.
PCS is fundamentally opposed to this decision and has serious health and safety concerns. We have produced legal advice for members in this situation.
PCS does not accept that all the safeguards required to make jobcentres safe are in place and that we should not be opening the doors for an increased service until they are. We have also made clear our concerns for our black and minority ethnic members who will have real worries about this development, especially given the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on the BAME population, and the high numbers of BAME people in the country that have contracted Covid-19 and sadly died.
PCS is also concerned that DWP will try to reduce the 2-metre social distancing rule in the light of the latest government policy. PCS’s position is clear that 2 metres must remain the rule in all our workplaces and will oppose any attempt to reduce this safety measure.
Complete the PCS survey
If you work in a jobcentre complete a short survey that we have emailed to members today. This will enable us to understand your views and raise them with the DWP.
Read further information on our response to the coronavirus outbreak on the employer group pages of this website.
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