Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page:

From The Socialist newspaper, 8 July 2020

Jobcentre reopening: only union struggle will put safety first

photo Paul Mattsson

photo Paul Mattsson   (Click to enlarge)

A Jobcentre worker

Jobcentres have become the latest battleground between workers' desire to work in safety and employers' desire to reopen services, ready or not.

At the end of June, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced it would be increasing the number of benefit claimants required to physically attend Jobcentres in England. At the time of writing, Wales and Scotland Jobcentres will not be affected, but plans are being put in place for the same approach.

When lockdown first began, Jobcentres were closed, except for appointments with those claimants who would otherwise not have been able to receive benefits. Most contact with claimants has been by telephone or online.


Increasing attendance comes hard on the heels of the announcement that "conditionality" - proving job searching - will be returning to jobseeker's allowance and Universal Credit claims. (See 'Benefits system being used to force return to unsafe workplaces' at The political decision to extend Jobcentre opening is an attempt by the government to indicate it is back to 'business as usual'.

Across DWP, screens are being fixed to desks to provide the illusion of protection. Management makes assurances that seeing claimants will ultimately be voluntary; that there will be regular cleaning of desks between appointments; that there will be increased security. But all of this is designed to mask the reality that there is no pressing need to extend opening.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which represents staff in Jobcentres, have been holding meetings to discuss this. The reaction to the increased risks for staff and claimants has been anger. Where socialists, in their capacity as union reps, have provided a strong lead, the opposition has been unanimous.

For well-organised areas, this is likely to lead to the employer backing off. Much of the detail of the proposals has not been dictated at national level, but left for local managers to sort out through risk assessments alongside local union reps.

Where union members are given a lead to stand up for their rights, managers can opt for the maximum protections and minimum attendance. This could help protect both staff and claimants.

PCS has served DWP with a union inspection notice covering all offices. DWP has been unable to provide sufficient assurances about health and safety to allow the union to sign off a national risk assessment.

This is a necessary step in preparing the ground for members to exercise their rights under Section 44 of the Employment Rights Act 1996. This lets workers remove themselves to a place of safety if they feel they are in imminent danger.

Reps from the Broad Left Network - a socialist organisation within PCS, in which Socialist Party members participate - have called for safely organised workplace meetings in DWP to prepare members for this. For months this has been opposed by 'Left Unity', the faction which controls the union's DWP group leadership, and the PCS national executive committee.


Instead, union leaders in DWP have emphasised that the decision to walk out is for staff individually, and that collective opposition is not possible. In so doing, the union leadership is failing in its role in organising workers.

Under current group president Martin Cavanagh, the union leadership in DWP has even opposed letting PCS health and safety reps travel to workplaces which do not have one to ensure social distancing is in place.

This blind trust in management, and unwillingness to put the health and safety of members first, is exactly what has encouraged DWP to press ahead with extending Jobcentre opening.

From the tentative nature of the DWP's attempts to get more claimants into the Jobcentres, it is clear the employer expected opposition. Many reps across DWP, rejecting the reluctance of the Left Unity leadership, have called meetings in the West Midlands, Yorkshire, the North West of England and other areas.

These have signalled steadfast opposition. This opposition can be built upon. A refusal to do so by the union's executive committees will be taken as a signal for DWP to push further towards business as usual.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • We must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation £


Your message: 


In The Socialist 8 July 2020:

Workplace news

Fantastic virtual NSSN conference: "Fight for our lives and livelihoods''

Homerton hospital workers deserve equal pay and conditions

Jobcentre reopening: only union struggle will put safety first

Southampton UCU: election victory for combative rank and file

Tower Hamlets council workers strike against wholesale attack on terms and conditions

Nottingham unions fight council job cuts


Fight for every job, fight for socialism

Tory NHS betrayal

Young people have no choice but to fight the system

Leicester: End the scandal of sweatshop labour

Covid pandemic and Northern Ireland - workers must resist the bosses' offensive

£1,600 less benefits if your job goes - while super-rich splash cash

Testing: Tories' £5bn gift to private sector

Johnson blames care workers for deaths

£3bn green pledge: not enough for climate or jobs

Poverty rises again - especially for BAME workers

Them and us

No going back

No going back: Nationalise social care!


The best place to start - join the Socialist Party

Trans rights protests oppose Tory backsliding

Black Lives Matter - the fight is not over

International news

Hong Kong: The fight for democratic rights

Bangladesh: Stop closure and privatisation of Jute Mills

Readers' opinion

TV: The school that tried to end racism

Books that inspired me: The Fire Next Time

The Socialist Inbox


Home   |   The Socialist 8 July 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook

Related links:


triangleCivil servants in Paisley protest after Covid outbreak

triangleReal life on Universal Credit: "As soon as I get billed for my electric, I'm finished"

triangleThe Socialist inbox

trianglePowerful picture of the Port Talbot steel workers' struggle

trianglePCS: strikes to defend jobcentres


triangleCarmarthenshire Unison: 'Recognise our union!'

triangleOaks Park school: Redbridge Labour council backs strike-breaking bullies

triangleClick here for a report. Speakers included: Sharon Graham - newly-elected Unite gen sec; Sarah Woolley - BFAWU gen sec; Carmel Gates - Nipsa gen sec (designate); Joe Simpson - POA deputy gen sec; Joe Kirby - RMT NEC & offshore worker

triangleObituary: Roger Henshaw, comrade and class fighter


triangleDWP: Demand safe working and more jobs

triangleGovernment departments move to impose pay cuts

triangleSafety campaign in DWP: What has happened to our ballot?


triangleFilm: 'Sick' - 'They've got people looking in the wrong direction'

trianglePCS: No to DWP management's plans - Yes to action


triangleReject the Ministry of Justice pay offer

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns



Carmarthenshire Unison: 'Recognise our union!'



Returning to campus: Students need to fight


Youth Fight for Jobs

We won't pay for capitalism's failings



Oaks Park school: Redbridge Labour council backs strike-breaking bullies



Scrap tuition fees - end university marketisation



Campaigning for socialism at Oxford Brookes Uni


Youth Fight for Jobs

Youth Fight for Jobs launches campaign in Brighton



Putting socialism on the map in Chichester



Reclaiming Pride as protest in Nottingham



Solidarity to the striking workers at Charité and Vivantes hospitals in Berlin


Fighting Fund

Fighting fund target reached: Help us continue to raise our banner and programme



On the frontline, and still fighting for the NHS



TV review - Grenfell: The Untold Story



Goodlord dispute: Labour's leadership weasled out of backing strike action



Save jobs and services - nationalise rail

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube



Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 077 7221 5281

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 078 0983 9793



Alphabetical listing

September 2021

August 2021

July 2021

June 2021

May 2021

April 2021

March 2021

February 2021

January 2021