Staff man picket lines over working conditions

Paul Vargerson, Alex Kirsch, Andrew Bielas Barnes, Alex Thorpe and Ian McCaskill.

Paul Vargerson, Alex Kirsch, Andrew Bielas Barnes, Alex Thorpe and Ian McCaskill.

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CALL centre workers for the JobCentre heralded a one-day strike as a major success.

Staff voted for industrial action in anger over working conditions and picketed outside the Premium Bonds site in Marton yesterday.

It is believed 250 Fylde coast Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) members failed to turn up for work.

Alex Kirsh, branch secretary for the PCS at Marton, said: “We don’t enjoy working here at the moment, which is a shame because it could be a nice place to be if things were done right.

“We want working conditions improved and staffing levels increased. This isn’t about money, it is about how we work on a day-to-day basis.”

Among the chief concerns is lack of flexibility about working hours. The call centre – which deals with phone inquiries from JobCentre customers – opens from 8am to 6pm. Staff work eight-hour days but, say union leaders, those shifts are determined by a centralised computer system which doesn’t take into account the individuals’ needs.

He said: “A lot of people would like to work from 8am till 4pm, as opposed to 10am to 6pm for example, yet they have no say in it.

“There is full flexibility in all other parts of the civil service, yet we can’t deviate.”

There are also complaints from the union about the pressure employees are under.

Andrew Bielas-Barnes, PCS branch chairman at Marton, added: “Everything is monitored. We are under a lot of pressure and we want conditions improved.”

As well as workers in Blackpool, there was strike action at other Jobcentre call centres in the north west, including Blackburn, Chorlton, Liverpool, Stockport and Wigan.

It is estimated 6,000 PCS members across 32 sites nationwide walked out.

Union rep Ian McCaskill said: “If we don’t get what we want and the union call us out again, we will strike again.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that some staff are taking industrial action which we think is unnecessary – especially as less than 20 per cent of staff voted for industrial action. We have gone to great lengths to resolve issues with unions and have already implemented greater working flexibilities and improvements.

“JobCentres and benefit payments have not been affected and claimants could access the usual services through Call Centre numbers and online, so any impact has been limited.”

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