THE CIVIL service dispute in London is escalating. The PCS union has started to ballot its members in the Benefits Agency and Employment Service for indefinite strike action in over 50 Pathfinder offices. Staff are being balloted in offices from Exeter to Aberdeen.
This is a vital step in the campaign to secure a safe working environment in Jobcentre Plus offices. At the moment strike action is confined to Brent and south west London. Despite a nationwide trawl for scabs, strikebreaking efforts have had very little success.
None of the Benefits Agency offices involved have been opened to the public throughout the strike. The morale of strikers remains high. This has been boosted by the refusal of the Makerfield benefits centre (near Wigan) and local Benefits Agency offices in London to touch benefit claims from striking offices.
It is a sign of management's nervousness about the strength of feeling across the Benefits Agency that at the time of writing no attempt had been made to move work to Makerfield. In indicative ballots the Makerfield, Fulham, Cricklewood and Kensington offices have all voted for strike action.
The PCS national disputes committee this week will consider all these requests for strike action. It is essential now that the PCS leadership captures the mood across the country by moving rapidly to a national ballot across the Benefits Agency and Employment Service.
A packed meeting of Brent strikers voted unanimously last week to call for an immediate ballot. Striker Carl Berry said, 'We need to show management that PCS members right across the country are not willing to put up with attacks on our safety and working conditions.'
If the employer gets away with removing screens, more attacks on conditions are sure to follow. Headed documents show that there are plans to abolish core hours and impose flexible working patterns, including Saturday opening.
Brent strikers have called a national demonstration outside Wembley job centre at 7.30am on 28 September (near Wembley Central tube).