The Socialist 13 April 2011
NHS in the firing line
PDFs for this issue
Jobcentre Plus call centre strike
We are not numbers!
Jane Aitchison, Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) PCS president, explains why PCS members are striking in all Jobcentre Plus call centres on 18 April.
The PCS civil servants union DWP group executive met last week and called a strike for Monday 18 April. We want to maximise the pressure on management and force them to make the changes our members and our claimants need.
After the very strong strike mandate given to us by 7,000 Jobcentre Plus contact centre workers, PCS tried talking to management but so far they have been unwilling to offer the sort of changes our members are now demanding.
This strike follows a very strongly supported strike in January by members in our seven newest contact centres. They were very angry about their new working conditions when the offices became contact centres and the poor levels of customer service they were forced to give in this job.
The dispute has now escalated to all 7,000 Jobcentre Plus contact centre workers - with all members demanding to be involved in the fight for decent working conditions and better customer service.
Standard industry call centre practices are an anathema to trade unionists and a shock to trade unionised workers. In DWP we have fought hard for decent working practices and for staff and claimants to be treated with respect.
When management introduced contact centres into Jobcentre Plus they brought in technology that monitors staff every minute of the day. Members are constantly timed and pulled up every time they exceed a target time, even if it is only by a few seconds. They are even timed when they go to the toilet. It is incredibly "Big Brother" and degrading and it has to stop.
These are the type of draconian practices Victorian bosses introduced in their 'dark satanic mills', with their systems of overseers and over lookers. Accepting these practices turns the clock back decades for the dignity and rights of workers. We must end it.
All of the targets in the call centres are about time and getting the claimant off the phone as quickly as possible. People who ring Jobcentre Plus don't ring for fun - they either ring because they need help getting a job or with getting the benefit money they rely on to live.
They need to have their query dealt with properly - no matter how long it takes. Often claimants have nowhere else to turn and are pretty desperate. With 2.5 million unemployed people relying on this service - it is critical that we get it right.
We are not numbers and neither are the unemployed. This strike is about fighting for workers and the unemployed to be treated with respect.
We have already received massive support for this dispute - as soon as the strike was called we started getting messages of support. During our strike in January we had loads of support from other call centre workers in the private sector - pleased that someone was standing up for them - enthused to get more organised and unionised.
We also got messages of support from other public sector workers pleased that we were taking a stand against the kind of terms and conditions squeeze they were feeling because of the cuts. Everyone supports this strike because everyone wants to know that if they had to ring the Jobcentre they would get a good service and nobody thinks that anyone should be timed when they go to the toilet.
Support the strike. Together we are stronger. Together we will win.
In this issue
Socialist Party editorial
Socialist Party feature
Socialist Party workplace news
International socialist news and analysis
Youth Fight for Jobs
Socialist Party news and analysis