Socialist Party
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26 January 2011

DWP contact centre strike

As Unemployment figures jumped again, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants in the PCS union were taking strike action to provide a decent service to claimants. The overwhelming majority of the 3,500 workers in Newport, Bristol, Chorlton, Glasgow, Makerfield, Norwich and Sheffield who have been transferred from benefit processing to call centres came out on strike on 20-21 January against worsening working conditions and a poor service to the public.
Alistair Tice, Dave Reid, Hugh Caffrey and Tom Baldwin report.

On the picket line in Sheffield, Linda called the two office floors of Sheffield DWP contact centre "the chicken run" - 500 staff but only 400 seats. Another picket said it's "like a prison cell".

Lauren explained that most of the Sheffield contact centre staff were transferred from benefit processing. Many have years, some decades, of experience in benefit delivery. Now they are glorified call centre workers, forced to read from a script, timed on every call, unable to give claimants the benefit of their knowledge and experience.

A new manager has been brought in to enforce these industrial conditions. He is attacking the union to force them through. Five PCS reps have been de-recognised and facility time withdrawn. They face disciplinary action for attending a branch executive committee.

Adam said: "This is the biggest picket we've had for years, it just shows how angry everyone is."

At the Makerfield site near Wigan in Lancashire, almost all the 800-strong workforce were on strike and mounted two pickets.

Despite the freezing weather in Bristol, the pickets were in an upbeat mood and reported that the strike was even more solid than previous ones, with more people out on the picket lines.