Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) call centre workers have voted decisively for strikes over working conditions.
PCS civil service union members in 37 Jobcentre Plus Contact Centre Directorate centres voted by 70.1 percent in the long-brewing dispute.
The vote for action short of a strike was even higher at 79 percent.
The vote follows a hard-hitting two-day strike by around 3,000 union members in seven other sites in the directorate in late January.
These had been transformed from benefit processing sites to call centres.
The turnout in the ballot was 43 percent. This is despite a campaign by management to try to intimidate workers in existing call centres to vote no by linking any strikes to planned office closures.
It is clear from the result that this strategy has blown up in their faces.
The dispute has wide ranging implications far beyond the relatively small number of members involved.
The Call Centre Directorate sees itself as the government’s “call centre network of choice” and is seeking to compete with other departments for work.
This raises the spectre of a race to the bottom as employers attack working conditions in order to force down costs. The struggle cannot be separated from the fight against the Tories’ cuts agenda.
Some supposedly left wing commentators have already denounced the vote for action as an attack on benefit claimants.
In fact, one of the key reasons for the vote is the poor level of service provided as a result of management’s obsession to drive down call times regardless of the service provided.
The PCS DWP group executive committee was to meet this week to decide the next move, which must involve calling strikes without delay.
Strong vote at Home Office
PCS members in the Home Office have voted by 82 percent for industrial action against job cuts and the victimisation of reps.