Jobcentre Plus call centre workers were on strike over working conditions on Monday 13 August.
Regular readers of Solidarity will know that Jobcentre Plus workers in DWP Call Centres have been part of the PCS union’s Contact Centre Campaign since as early as 2009 in the fight for improved working conditions. Just some of the conditions that workers have taken action against include oppressive management practices, time and target driven working, monitoring of staff movements and whereabouts, and high stress levels (often due to all of the above), which has led to a draconian attitude to sickness management in these offices.
In one office of around 350 staff, there are currently 80 workers undergoing disciplinary action for sickness, and local union reps make quite clear that a large proportion of this sickness is either down to either work-related stress, or sickness from members of staff with disabilities that the Contact Centre cannot, or refuses, to accommodate.
In addition, as explained in Solidarity 253, Jobcentre Plus management have begun to privatise contact centre services, removing work from public sector staff and outsourcing to private companies like Capita, who are planning to pay workers around £3,000 less per year for the same role, on worse terms.
The frustration and anger at the longevity of these problems and the refusal of the management to admit to their failings meant that the strike was extremely well supported in most sites, with many members joining picket lines who had never done so before. Management’s tactic of holding staff meetings prior to the strike to try and appease staff and convince them of what a great place the Contact Centre Service is to work apparently backfired.
One worker in an affected JCP call centre said: “Having worked in Sheffield Contact Centre for over three years, I've experienced several changes of both teams and service lines, the most recent of which enforced due to the privatisation of my job role. Management's constant demands to meet unrealistic targets seem to lead not only to low morale, but affects the staff's health and well-being."
Due in large to pressure from members in affected branches, PCS is now willing to take further action on this campaign if management do not buckle over any of the demands of the strike.
PCS negotiators have been in talks since the strike day and are meeting DWP management again this week.