SHOCK AND anger spread through job centres and pension centres last week when the government announced it was going to axe 550 benefit offices and ten pension centres—and do it all with a smile.
Some 30,000 low paid civil servants in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) are set to lose their jobs. Chancellor Gordon Brown announced the job cuts without any warning in March’s Budget.
New Labour is going further than even the bosses’ CBI wanted. The CBI condemned the cuts that are being made in the Department of Trade and Industry.
Andrew Smith, New Labour minister at the DWP, added insult to injury last week by sending out a memo to bosses explaining that management should sack staff positively, with a concerned and encouraging look.
Workers throughout the DWP are disgusted.
Steve Bramhill is the branch secretary of the DWP section of the PCS civil servants’ union in Liverpool. He works at the Liverpool pensions centre, which is threatened with closure.
He says, “There was a feeling of disbelief when we heard the announcement. People were stunned and shellshocked. Some members were talking about walking out, but management sent us home at lunchtime anyway.
“People have been losing sleep because they are so worried. The ‘sack ’em with a smile’ stuff is ridiculous, but it’s what I’ve come to expect from New Labour. This will mean 270 jobs are going to go from one of the poorest parts of the country. It will have a big impact on the local economy.
It will also have a big impact on the service. The work we are dealing with will be transferred to other centres, but there will be no extra staff. We need to hear more from our PCS union. I’m disappointed that the national union hasn’t got anything out to members yet, almost a week on. But the fightback to keep those jobs begins now.”
David Stead is branch secretary of the Newcastle Central benefits branch of the PCS and works at the Newcastle pensions centre. He spoke to Socialist Worker in a personal capacity.
David says, “On Tuesday morning of last week at Newcastle pensions centre the management told the staff to stay off the phones at 9.30am as there was going to be an important announcement. The mood was extremely tense. People didn’t know their future. After the announcement there was an initial sense of relief that our jobs were safe for now. But in about 18 months further cuts are going to be announced. The announcement coincided with the new pay claim for this year. It has made people more determined to have an effective claim. The union is organising a lobby of parliament for next Wednesday. Lots of people put their names down to travel to London after the announcement. Most union members don’t expect to be highly paid, but they expect some job security. There is a commitment to working for the welfare state, although that sounds almost like an archaic term. Andrew Smith’s comments were incredible. Some members said that this is the best Tory government there’s ever been! There is a determination in my union branch to put up the best jobs fight possible. I can’t remember a time when there’s been compulsory redundancies in the civil service. The position of my branch is that it will support a fight in Liverpool or York, and we will also back a national fight for jobs and the public service.”
‘Look interested when you’re sacking ’
THE “SACKING with a smile” memo is titled “Best Practice in Communicating Difficult Messages”.
It says that only 30 percent of people’s reaction is to the words they are told. The rest depends on “what you look like when you’re saying it (body language) and how you say it (tone of voice)”.
It also says, “It’s important to show that you care.
“Below are some tips that will help you demonstrate caring and empathy as well as competence and expertise. Positive body language means being:
“Responsive, lean forward, open arms, nod occasionally. Listening with head tilted, constant eye contact, nodding and verbal acknowledgement. Attentive smile and nod, giving non-verbal encouragement.”
Civil Servants talking
The service will be destroyed too
CIVIL SERVANTS spoke to Socialist Worker about the effect the cuts will have on the service.
Kate Douglas, a DWP worker in Oxfordshire, said, “We can’t give a proper service at the moment. Last August in Buckinghamshire we couldn’t get people their benefits in time, so they were exhausting their crisis loans to keep going.
“We were referring people to soup kitchens. Now one in three staff are set to go. Benefits will be delayed. Some people will not get their money for three months or more. This will affect the poorest people in society. If their giros are one day late they can’t afford to buy nappies for their kids. We are papering over the cracks already. The government spent nearly £1 million on each Jobcentre Plus office. Now they’re closing 550 of them. I think the strike over low pay on 29 and 30 July will be very strong now.
“It will be a focus for the feeling over the job cuts and this memo, as well as a further stage in our long-running pay battle.”
A DWP worker in south London told Socialist Worker, “There’s a wave of insecurity in the offices. Everyone is angry. The people who are performing are not being rewarded. Now we are losing jobs. All I can see is a downward spiral. It isn’t a service any more. That’s why they changed the name from Employment Service to Jobcentre Plus. The powers that be are relying on us to feel defeated, that people feel they have to go—so, ironically, justifying the job cuts.”