Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Civil service union ballots members for action to improve services to the unemployed

PCS balloting Jobcentreplus Contact Centre workers

PCS is balloting members for strike action across all the contact centres in Jobcentreplus in the UK including 5 offices in Wales. Our members gave solid support for 2 days strike action in January in 7 of these offices, including Newport, which have been changed from benefit processing centres into contact centres. This has already showed the determination of our members to fight for better working conditions and crucially the ability to provide good quality services to the public. However management have failed to take notice of this strength of feeling about the need to improve the way that we deliver services. So we have had to escalate the dispute to the whole contact centre network.

PCS members are angry that management believe that the only way to ensure we do our job is by monitoring us for every minute of the day. We are threatened with disciplinary action if we consistently spend over the strictly limited target time on calls. This is despite the fact that we are speaking to individuals who are very worried and stressed and need support. Our members worked flat out during the recession to deliver services to the soaring levels of unemployed because we are committed to providing good quality services.

We did this without needing constant monitoring. The way the job is designed in Jobcentreplus contact centres is extremely frustrating and soul destroying for our members. This contributes along with the heavy handed management style to the highest levels of sickness absence in the Department for Work and Pensions.

Jobcentreplus has the largest contact centre network in Europe so we should be leading the way in contact centre job design and services - especially as we are not selling products but are delivering vital services to some of the most vulnerable people in society. Instead our management are trailing behind with their archaic obsession with targets and pressurising our members. They just look at quantitative targets on numbers of calls answered and the length of time we spend on each call, which is constantly being reduced to impossible levels. Our members recognise clearly that the public, when they get through to us on the phone, want their query dealt with. People do not want to be fobbed off nor have to wait up to 3 hours for one of our hard-pressed benefit processing colleagues to ring them back.

We know that the benefit system is difficult to navigate and we want to make sure that advice and guidance is as simple to access as possible. In many instances it would take us less time to resolve the problem with a benefit claim than having to write an explanation in an email referral for yet another Jobcentreplus member of staff to deal with.

The PCS DWP Wales Secretary Katrine Williams says “Unemployment is now at the highest level since 1994 against a background of an already difficult economic climate in Wales. So it is even more important to PCS than ever that the public get the quality services they deserve and management allow us to use our judgement and skills to help the public access Jobcentreplus services”.

By Socialist Party Wales

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