Members of the PCS civil service workers’ union at call centres in the Revenue & Customs (HMRC) department voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action for improvements to their terms and conditions last week.
They voted by 74.4 percent in favour of strike action and 82 percent in favour of action short of a strike. The high vote is a clear signal to management that over 10,000 PCS members are determined to fight.
The dispute is over the appalling working practices and understaffing that these workers are subjected to along with detrimental changes that management wants to impose.
At present the call centres are only staffed to answer around half of all calls.
Some of these calls are from the most vulnerable people in society who desperately need access to benefits such as tax credits.
At the moment many simply cannot get through to speak to anyone.
This is compounded by the closure of many local offices. The situation is only likely to get worse as job losses mean the number of people claiming benefits increases.
On top of this HMRC wants to bring in new working patterns, limit annual leave to allow only a very small percentage of staff to take leave when they request it and continue with draconian monitoring of staff output.
This forces workers to get each call over with as quickly as possible to try to hit targets – hitting the quality of the service provided.
Negotiations are ongoing. However, it is likely that a rolling programme of industrial action will begin in the next few weeks.
Marianne Owens is a member of the PCS’s Revenue & Customs group executive committee. She writes in a personal capacity