The decision to ballot was taken following months of negotiations with UC over staffing. The DWP group executive committee (GEC) had agreed a national campaign for 5,000 additional staff, a limit to the number of phone calls case managers have had to take and substantial changes to how staff are being managed, including around the poor levels of consultation on changes.
Walsall and Wolverhampton are unlikely to be on their own for long. Canterbury and Stockport have both indicated at well-attended car park meetings that they wish to take strike action, with the only delay being the desire of all reps and members to fight and win the national pay ballot. Anger is also clearly present at Preston, Makerfield and Blackpool, though some sites have reported sudden moves of work out of their site and big efforts being made by senior managers to trumpet extra recruitment.
An all reps meeting confirmed that the question of staffing is crucial, as all of the other problems seem to flow from it. Even at sites where the mood wasn’t deemed to be ready to consider industrial action, there were reports of attempts to restrict flexi accrual, difficulties using assumed consent and the badgering of staff to be in “ready” regardless of what other work they were clearing. More than half of the UC sites reported managers putting pressure on staff who have disabilities that restrict their ability to handle telephone calls, to get back on the phones. The anger of members about poor treatment deriving from a lack of sufficient staff is palpable.
DWP have consistently said that there will be “jam tomorrow”, that if staff just bear up under the pressure for a little longer, everything will be okay. The staffing allocation for 2019/20 is not published yet, though early indications are the PCS staffing campaign has won an increase – but even with an increase, UC senior leaders are still saying there will be “significant resource pressure” in 2019/20.
DWP need to stop making excuses and recruit the thousands of extra staff UC will need to handle an additional million claims in 2019 and the “managed migration” of legacy JSA, ESA, IS, Housing Benefit and Tax Credits claims to UC.
The GEC has made clear to DWP that Jobcentres are feeling the pressure too. Work Coaches, who are already seeing dozens of claimants a day, now face more work, with instructions to clear “to dos” that would previously have been cleared in the Service Centres. Meanwhile, the lack of AO grade staff in Jobcentres has forced some sites to ask EOs to cover AO work. Despite this, DWP are admitting that they anticipate some Jobcentres will be stretched to crisis point over the next year.
The message from the GEC to all branches is clear: now is the time to put pressure on DWP to undo some of the 30,000+ job cuts we have seen in this department over the last ten years. Persisting with a UC system that is failing staff and claimants is not an option. With our members reporting scores of angry and vulnerable calls every day, DWP must be told this dispute isn’t going away until we have thousands more staff to support our claimants.