Thousands of workers in Jobcentre Plus call centres are staging a 48-hour strike in a row over working conditions and claims of “excessive monitoring”.
Members of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) at seven sites will take industrial action after previously voting in favour of a walkout.
The union said staff have complained about “intolerable” conditions, including excessive monitoring and inflexible working conditions.
The PCS claimed that the perceived drop in the number of people receiving Jobseeker’s Allowance despite a big increase in unemployment confirmed its fears that a backlog of claims was mounting up.
The offices affected are Glasgow, Newport in south Wales, Norwich, Sheffield, Makerfield, near Wigan, Bristol and Manchester, with up to 3,500 workers due to take action.
The union said it wanted staff to have the same flexitime arrangements as in the rest of the Department for Work and Pensions, more varied, satisfying work and an end to a “target” driven culture, particularly by changing the way “unrealistic average call times” are used.
Officials claimed “oppressive” working conditions in Jobcentre Plus were causing high levels of stress and sickness, adding that staff were leaving at an “alarming” rate.
Jane Aitchison, PCS’s Work and Pensions Department group president, said: “These targets are putting unacceptable working pressures on our members, who just want to be able to provide a genuine customer service to members of the public. The department’s obsession with targets means callers are not receiving that, and that’s not good enough.”
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “While unemployment will continue rising as the spending cuts bite, our members face increasing workloads with fewer staff. If the Government invested in jobs and our economy none of this would be happening. DWP management need to urgently investigate why the claimant rate appears to be falling when unemployment is going up and to put proper resources in place to handle people’s claims effectively.”
A DWP spokesman said: “We are disappointed that some staff – only 21% across the centres – have voted to take industrial action. No jobs will be at risk through these changes. The contact centre staff at DWP will continue to receive good terms of employment, including generous holidays.”