Defending jobs, services and rights

Civil service strike ballot:

Defending jobs, services and rights

OVER 90,000 PCS members in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)
will be balloted in December. This is part of the union’s campaign
against attacks on jobs, services and rights resulting from the
so-called "modernisation" programme.

John McInally, PCS National Executive Committee and DWP Group Assistant Secretary, personal capacity

This programme is a key element of New Labour’s neo-liberal agenda –
they argue that society can no longer afford a welfare state of the type
won by workers’ struggle in the post-war period.

All governments in the past 35 years have wanted to drastically
reduce welfare and other types of social provision, whilst workers want
to see genuine improvement and expansion.

The cuts programme in DWP is the biggest and harshest in the public
sector, with a projected loss of 30,000 jobs. It is based on the "remote
processing" of benefits, pensions etc. This means the centralisation of
processes, call centres, office closures and massive job cuts.

New technology is being bought from the private sector. And the prime
aim of the programme is to fit the delivery of services within the
capacity and capability of the technology and operating systems rather
than being based on the needs of our clients, the most vulnerable people
in society.

Privatisation of these services is the aim. Management documents show
they intend to move toward privatising core functions like labour market
advising in the not too distant future.


PCS’s left-led DWP Group Executive Committee (GEC) has repeatedly
warned ministers and management that to proceed on the basis of untried
and untested technology and operating systems while pressing ahead with
job cuts and office closures would inevitably lead to service delivery
failure. This could affect millions of people and take years to rectify.

To some extent ministers have recognised this – they have diverted
resources from other parts of the DWP budget for a recovery plan to
prevent complete meltdown in the Child Support Agency.

Management are in denial about the chaos in DWP. But service users,
benefit claimants, pensioners etc, are facing increasing exclusion from
vital services as a result of conscious policy, for example the
bizarrely entitled "reducing footfall" strategy. This may also be
because the technology is inadequate, simply does not work, is not fit
for purpose or of insufficient capacity.

Some call centres are only answering ten percent of calls. Although
we are told to call our users "customers" they are not contacting call
centres to order some product but to gain access to vital services,
including benefits and pensions.

Backlogs are increasing, as are waiting times for benefit payments
and enquiries. IT and communications failures are resulting in crisis
management with "emergency" contingencies now commonplace, as is
reversion to clerical working. Pressure of work, lack of training and
bad planning have resulted in an increase in the error rate. Assaults on
staff have increased by 62% in the last year and the type of assaults
are getting increasingly serious.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the cuts programme is accompanied by an
unprecedented attack on terms, conditions and rights, just as PCS
predicted it would.

Rather than tackling the root cause of workplace absence, management
prefer to harass and intimidate staff through the misuse of "managing
attendance" procedures which are being openly used to weed out those who
do not easily fit into the new regime.

Rather than work constructively with PCS to tackle issues arising
from the avoidance of redundancy measures, management want to scrap
current mobility rules so they can make staff work even further away
from where they live. Access to flexible and part-time working is
becoming more restricted as workloads increase.

The DWP job cuts strategy is the biggest and most extensive in the
public sector. It is the most harsh and extensive in the civil service
but it is in trouble, as predicted by the left leadership of PCS.

Proceeding with cuts on this scale with untried and untested
technology and without proper planning, is resulting in operational
difficulty and service delivery failure on a potentially massive scale.
Even a small increase in unemployment could test capacity to breaking

The GEC has campaigned hard, working with branches and members. There
have been some notable successes, including securing important Avoidance
of Redundancy agreements and stopping the closures of offices.

Public meetings and demonstrations have been held throughout Britain.
Two excellent lobbies of Parliament and much more, including a
tremendous DWP turnout on the national civil service strike on 5
November 2004.


The GEC is demanding:

  • A moratorium (or halt) to the job cuts. A guarantee of no compulsory
    redundancy agreement. Proper staffing levels with additional staffing to
    be deployed where and when required, on the basis of operational need.
    The removal of failing IT systems and full consultation over future

Management to address the causes of workplace absence, not attack the
victims. An end to harassment of staff who are sick through automatic
eight-day warnings. No worsening of mobility rules and full rights to
flexible and part-time working.

  • Free access to all DWP services. An end to the obsession of achieving
    "targets" at the expense of good service delivery.

These demands are reasonable and achievable and are necessary, if we
are to get DWP working again.

Management are not prepared to give concessions that would form the
basis of a negotiated settlement. In recent talks they have made it
clear they will not move on the key question of headcount flexibility.
PCS believes there must be a halt to the cuts while a serious review of
the service delivery problems in DWP tales place. If not – to paraphrase
a New Labour song – things can only get worse.

Industrial action

PCS wants a negotiated settlement but is not prepared to stand aside
and see these damaging cuts in jobs, services and rights continue
unchallenged. The willingness of PCS members to take industrial action
forced a reversal of plans to attack pension rights.

Management could settle this dispute by engaging seriously with PCS
and reaching a settlement that would be in the interests of members, the
public and DWP management themselves.

The ballot is due to begin at the start of December and if no
settlement is reached the action will begin with a two-day group-wide
strike, discontinuous action and an overtime ban. London members
recently voted for action in a separate ballot but will now be part of
the group-wide ballot.

Maximum unity is now required as we move into the first major ballot
of the largest group in the civil service. All activists must work as
hard as they can to ensure a big YES for action and a strong turnout to
give PCS the strongest possible mandate to win our campaign.

NAO admits system is too complex

THE NATIONAL Audit Office has just declared that Britain’s benefit
system is too complex. The constant changes to the system have made it
difficult to grasp and vulnerable to error.

They recommend that the system should be simplified but they don’t
say how this can be done at the same time as cutting 30,000 jobs.