News : Jobcentre Plus Staff to Strike 'with Reluctance'
April 15, 2011 -- The industrial action being planned by Jobcentre workers in Exeter will be taken "with regret and extreme reluctance".
Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union at the Jobcentre Plus in the city are to join thousands across the country staging a 24-hour strike in an escalating row over working conditions and targets, it has been announced.
They will walk out on Monday April 18.
Mervyn Ellis, branch secretary for the union in Devon, said: "The dispute is about inflexible working practices and a workforce management tool that chains staff to their desks, and has planned breaks throughout the day.
"We have been negotiating with the executive board for more than a year to try to resolve our differences in managing our business without this inflexibility.
"Some improvements were made but just before Christmas last year, in some contact centres, those improvements were swept away without any consultation."
In a ballot of the union's 7,000 members in the call centres, 70 per cent of those who took part voted for strike action, with a turnout of 43 per cent.
The union says it wants to improve the levels of customer service in call centres, end a target-driven culture, particularly by changing the way "unrealistic" average call times are used, and introduce proper flexible working arrangements.
Mr Ellis added: "We are also concerned that the welfare state is being set up to fail so the private sector can get its hands on lucrative deals at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.
"The postcode lottery regarding the delivery of crisis loans and community care grants by local authorities is just another such example.
"The forcing of people from one benefit system to another will increase calls to an already overstretched call centre network resulting in more stress cases."
The strikes in Devon will take place at the contact centre in Pynes Hill, Exeter, and at the centre in Warren Road, Torquay.
A DWP spokesman said: "We are disappointed that despite three-quarters of staff across the centres not voting to strike, the PCS has decided to take industrial action.
"The contact centre staff at DWP have good terms of employment, including generous holidays, and have a good amount of flexibility.
"But we have to ensure that our service is available when our customers, who include some of the most vulnerable people in the country, need us."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Published: Monday, April 18, 2011
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