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From The Socialist newspaper, 19 August 2020

PCS union: Vote Yes in DWP ballot! Reject longer opening hours

  (Click to enlarge)

Katrine Williams, vice-president, PCS DWP group (personal capacity)

PCS members in all the Department for Work and Pension's (DWP) Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit service centres must vote Yes in the ballot which starts 17 August.

This will give a very clear message to management, to stop their plans to open workplaces until 8pm, to open on Saturdays, and to bring back conditionality.

The threat to open these workplaces into the evenings and all Saturdays shows no regard for PCS union members who have worked flat out to deliver services to the public in the pandemic and ensure the massive influx of people making claims for benefit have all received payments.

We have achieved this with only 60% of our members in the workplace, and our members at home have had to put up with delays and issues getting the kit to work from a government department that was the worst prepared with IT equipment for their workforce. All adding extra pressure on our members delivering services.

We have seen the fiasco of rolling out the reopening of Jobcentres to meet the Tory ministers' aim of making things look like they are getting back to normal, but with scant regard for the health and safety of our members.

There is no reason why we could not continue to provide the bulk of our support remotely over the phone or digitally, which would help keep our members and the public safe.

The plans to open Jobcentres later, and on Saturdays, are even more flawed, putting everyone further at risk.

But they also harm the services that can be provided during the peak working times during the week.

During the pandemic there has been flexibility to concentrate the opening hours to the public at normal office hours, so that we can focus the limited resources and staffing to when there is the most demand for support.

This has helped our members deal with the issues caused by the pandemic, allow them to juggle their personal issues, and deal with limited public transport.

This should continue, as we are far from out of the woods in dealing with the impact of coronavirus.

The concept of having the potential to have opening hours until 7.30pm or on Saturdays was to have the flexibility, if required, to offer services to the public who need support from the DWP but would struggle to access these services during normal business hours from 9am-5pm.

The collective agreement is clear that operating hours should be directly related to demand from the public, and not just implemented for the sake of it.

With the economy in recession, and large numbers of jobs at risk, the vast bulk of the demand from the public will remain during the day.

Any move to stretch our members' working patterns to cover longer working days and Saturday opening will damage the services to the public when they are most needed.

With such a difficult economic climate, the focus should still be on supporting the public, and we remain opposed to the return to conditionality.

The priorities of paying benefit and supporting the public whilst keeping our members safe must remain.

Management can be made to back off. This will require a huge turnout and Yes vote.

Branches and reps have the key role in talking to members to encourage them to demonstrate their opposition collectively to management's plans by voting Yes.

Management's plans are unsafe, unnecessary and unacceptable.

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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 government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

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In The Socialist 19 August 2020:

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