Meetings have been held to consult over strike action among Jobcentre Plus Contact Centre Directorate (CCD) staff.
Action will be over conditions.
The use of call centres in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has expanded gradually over the past few years and is now the primary form of contact. And call centres involved in the Pensions, Disability and Carers’ Service have been outsourced to Ventura, where the management are strongly anti-union. Staff terms and conditions are similar to those in private sector call centres.
The Telephony Implementation Project of October 2009 sees more changes. A range of existing Benefit Delivery Centres (largely processing sites), existing Contact Centres (call centres on a national “virtualised” network) and mixed sites, were told that they would undergo a compulsory “transformation”. For many thousands of workers this meant compulsory change from skilled benefit processing, appeals work, and decision making, to scripted and strictly scheduled call centre work.
Independent Left, the left wing opposition within PCS, argued that industrial action was needed to put pressure on DWP management to reverse the decision during the PCS negotiations with them. Unfortunately, moves to do that were rejected by the DWP PCS Group Executive Committee, on the grounds that negotiations must be exhausted before any action could be taken.
Now hundreds of staff in several sites have been compulsorily transferred from skilled jobs into what many members call the Contact Centre “regime”. The role now includes strict working-time scheduling, no choice or flexibility over breaks, loss of flexible working hours and short notice submissions for leave or different working hours, and many other issues. So why is it only now that PCS are looking to ballot?
The AWL welcomes the ballot, even belated, but we also have a number of concerns. At present it is only the affected transformation sites which are being balloted, despite the fact that any gains made through action will be of benefit to all CCD staff.
Members have already raised concerns with the Left Unity leadership’s likely proposal of one- or two-day strikes instead of selective part-paid longer term strike action or other forms of more effective action.
These fixed-term “protest” actions are short what many members would be willing to take. Furthermore, only the TPIP sites will be able to take part. The membership database in the Contact Centre network is not up to date.
Whilst further action throughout CCD is expected, many members will not feel the confidence in any initial strike action without the support and strength from the colleagues nationally.
We urge all members to vote for action but to demand the leadership is quicker and more militant in their reaction to struggle, and to remember that all affected staff must be included to ensure a successful outcome.