Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/237/25048
PCS dispute: Support Action For Safety
PUBLIC AND Commercial Services (PCS) union members working in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took two days of strike action in December 2001 over safety.
By A PCS member
40,000 civil servants joined Pathfinder offices who had already been on strike since September and October. Many Benefits Agency offices were unable to offer a service to customers, others closed for all but a couple of hours.
While telling staff that safety is a top priority in the new Jobcentre Plus offices, management are doing nothing to prevent assaults. The screened Benefits Agency offices have half the number of assaults found in unscreened Jobcentres. Yet management plan to ensure that all Jobcentre Plus offices are unscreened with only one small screen facility for every four offices.
Shortly after the Christmas break, a south London Jobcentre worker was hit over the head with a wastepaper basket. The open plan environment clearly didn't encourage his attacker to feel calm and able to conduct matters without violence. In another incident a returned striker was assaulted outside the Balham office.
The signs are that such assaults are increasing. This will certainly be the case if Jobcentre Plus goes ahead as currently designed. Yet management choose to ignore these incidents, insisting that the new open plan will not see increased assaults on staff.
On Tuesday 15 January the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) are due to visit the Streatham Pathfinder. This will be one of five Pathfinder offices the HSE will visit. Management have refused to enter into tripartite discussions with PCS and the HSE. Again this shows that safety is not management's top priority.
Management are preparing to reward scabs that undermined strikers at the Pathfinder offices. Those that scabbed at the Brent and Streatham Pathfinders were offered 10 days extra annual leave. These were in addition to financial rewards already made.
One scab, after two months, netted £1,800 on top of normal pay. Such tactics are a clear attempt to undermine the solidarity between staff and to break the dispute.
PCS have twice met management and put forward proposals to settle the dispute. PCS officials expected management to enter into serious negotiations, but this didn't happen and no progress was made. This despite the government's assertion that they "are willing to have further discussion on this basis".
PCS members are now preparing for two further days of strike action on 28 and 29 January and a lobby of Parliament on the 29th. A ballot for work to rule will start on 30 January. Management should stop posturing, seriously consider the proposals put to them and provide staff with a safe working environment.
In The Socialist 18 January 2002: