Negotiations with bosses in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), over plans to extend job centre opening hours and increase the number of in-person interviews with claimants, are ongoing. The union position is clear; we believe these proposals will put both workers and claimants at risk.
Further concessions have now been offered, including devolving some of the decision-making down to individual workers. This means DWP job coaches could make a decision about whether they need to see a claimant in person, or if they could speak to them remotely. That is a meaningful concession, although it does risk individual workers coming under pressure from bosses to increase the number of claimants they’re seeing in person.
Management are shifting under pressure from the threat of industrial action, but our reps need to weigh up whether the concessions offered thus far are sufficient. We want a national agreement, not piecemeal concessions. The DWP Group Executive Committee will meet this week to discuss the next steps. Our driving instructor members are also likely to move towards a ballot for action to resist unsafe work.
The wider national picture has stabilised somewhat, as the rising infection rate and government advice that everyone who can work from home should has meant that civil service departments have backed off from their back-to-the-office push. We need to use the pause and relative stability to strengthen our organisation and put measures in place, such as workplace safety committees, to ensure workers are ready to take the maximum degree of control over how work is organised.
In the next few weeks the national union will need to make a decision about how we’re fighting on civil service pay this year. We’ve got a formal position to move towards a national ballot — the November meeting of our National Executive Committee will discuss whether and how to action that policy.
Unfortunately many feel that, in the context of the pandemic, we aren’t in a position to ballot now. If the NEC decides not to move to a ballot, we will need to regroup and reorganise to take up the issue with renewed vigour in the new year, when a ballot may be more feasible.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service workers’ union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.