Members of the PCS civil service workers’ union in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have voted for strikes over job cuts, office closures and other issues.
Union leaders were expected to call a two-day strike for the end of January at a meeting taking place as Socialist Worker went to press. The PCS’s 90,000 members in the DWP do vital jobs in Britain’s job centres, benefits offices, processing and call centres.
The government wants to cut up to 40,000 jobs across the DWP as part of its civil service jobs cull. It has already cut 15,000 jobs, leading to a serious decline in the level of services workers are able to deliver.
Phil Pardoe, of the PCS’s DWP group executive, told Socialist Worker, “The members have clearly voted for action. Frontline job centre staff understand how awful things are and have voted accordingly.
“Other parts of the DWP where they are not experiencing the same cuts probably didn’t show the same level of support for striking.
“But I am sure that now the union has called a strike it will be supported across the board. We have to involve the maximum number of union members in the action and keep up the momentum after next week’s strike.”
Dave Owens, the PCS’s north west regional organiser of the DWP, said, “The scale of the attack on workers in the DWP is huge. Some 40,000 of the 100,000 civil service job cuts planned by chancellor Gordon Brown are in the DWP.
“This isn’t just about DWP workers. The government’s plans represent the second largest attack on welfare provision after the attacks on pensions.
“The cuts mean closing pensions and benefits offices and transferring the work to call centres. This takes local services away from vulnerable people and transfers them to anonymous offices.
“If you are a pensioner in Kent making a call about benefits, you will be answered by someone in Motherwell.
“It’s also worse for staff. I’m now working in a call centre and it’s very different — there are electronic monitoring systems that measure your ‘productive time’ against ‘non productive time’.
“As well as voting to strike, workers also voted by eight to one for action short of a strike, which means we will also be carrying out a work to rule and an overtime ban.
“In the north west, where there are a number of call centres, the union has been putting an emphasis on the DWP’s targets and attacks on sickness procedures during the balloting period.
“We need to get out to all the less well organised places before the strike. At the DWP centre in Liverpool, where I work, 35 temporary staff joined the union last week.”
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said, “This vote sends out a clear message that our members will not sit back and allow the services that they deliver and care about to be damaged beyond repair. The race to slash jobs is impacting on services, leading to two month waits for benefits and a million calls going unanswered.
“The department and the government need to halt the job cuts programme and engage with the union in objectively assessing staffing needs and the impact of staffing levels on services.”