The Group Executive Committee for our members in the Department for Work and Pensions met on Tuesday 22 September to discuss the results of a recent indicative ballot of Job Centre workers, which returned a big majority for industrial action against extended opening hours and other unsafe working conditions.
Although a final decision has yet to be made, there are now active discussions about moving to a formal, statutory, ballot for action.
The general picture, in terms of civil service bosses’ “back-to-the-office” push, has changed since new restrictions were brought in and the Prime Minister made a statement urging everyone to work from home if they could. Unfortunately some civil service managers are putting their own spin on that statement, saying that people should work from home if they can work “effectively”, and may still try to push some workers back to the physical office. Our position remains that home working should be the default, and anyone who needs to return to the office should do so on a strictly voluntary basis.
Despite these new restrictions and the rising infection rate, DWP bosses are still insisting more claimants return to Job Centres for face-to-face interviews. They’re particularly targeting younger claimants. With the reimposition of “conditionality”, which means claimants could have their benefits cut if they miss interviews, this creates real risks for claimants and staff. Having crowds of people in small Job Centres could make them “super-spreader” sites.
Just as students are being confined to their rooms on university campuses due to outbreaks, the government is essentially telling benefits claimants of a similar age to crowd into cramped Job Centres!
Our demand is for conditionality to be withdrawn, and contact with claimants to be remote as far as possible.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity