Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/420/4916
DWP strike ballot:
Stop the job cuts
Vote 'yes' for strike action
THE DEPARTMENT for Work and Pensions (DWP) is a service in crisis. It is not alone - new figures have been released that show 120 million calls to government help lines have been unanswered in the last three years. This has resulted in people having to wait for up to eight weeks for their first benefit payment.
A DWP worker
The DWP is being forced to take the brunt of New Labour's treasury-driven cuts programme to the tune of 30,000 job losses (104,000 in the civil service as a whole) and the situation for the workers has become intolerable.
These cuts are biting hard at their heels every moment of their day, in the shape of aggressive and unreasonable management. Unreachable targets are set and used as a stick to beat the staff with. The fear of compulsory redundancy is always there.
For now mandatory sackings have been avoided through hard discussions and campaigning by the PCS union. But there is not a single DWP member who could ever seriously trust the word of this government and the discredited management on any issue.
Other issues that are degrading the service and demoralising the staff include:
- Plans to privatise JobCentre Plus following a leaked document.
- Senior Whitehall civil servants recently handing themselves a pay hike between 88% and 90%.
- Abuse of jobs and pay. Staff are being forced to perform duties above their grade that they aren't being paid for.
- A discriminatory pay and performance system that condemns workers to unfair quotas where for some the performance pay is marked "unfit for any increase at all".
- The introduction of "lean working" where severely limited training is provided and staff are forced to work from scripts on benefit rules they don't understand properly and struggle to explain to claimants.
- Health and safety laws and regulations being pushed aside to drive cost cutting.
- Workers in call centres suffering acoustic shock from poor headsets and other staff suffering poor air quality as overcrowded and cramped offices overwork faulty air conditioning systems.
In the face of these vicious and arbitrary policies, PCS has had no choice but to take a stand and ballot the beleaguered staff for what is proposed as a two-day strike. Activists are working hard to build support for the strike.
Horrendous working conditions
DWP STAFF suffer horrendous working conditions and endure a management system that has used every means possible to sack its most vulnerable employees, with its sick absence "attendance management policy".
Despite the policy stating each member who has been absent must have their case dealt with on its own merits, it has contributed to many of 14,500 jobs culled from the department in the last 18 months. The scheme generates a live penalty after just eight day's absence in any 12-month period.
Just three penalties in two and a half-years produces dismissal.
Senior managers have encouraged the disability discrimination act and "natural justice" to be ignored when giving the sickness warnings.
All along, PCS has asked senior managers to address the cause of workplace absence and not attack the victims of sickness.
Government blind faith in technology to replace jobs has seen vastly expensive private contracts produce failing, ill-conceived IT systems that have been rushed through with little testing.
Blind faith in technology
These expensive flops have generated countless faults. This has often resulted in staff with already oppressive workloads having to use complex workarounds. This means large backlogs and chronic stress.
The technology has been heralded by ministers but in reality has made the service worse for those who work there and the poorest members of society who rely on it for benefits.
Management attitude has been one of indifference and they are now making workers with families and caring responsibilities suffer as they restrict flexible hours to cover a service reduced to breaking point.
This is on the back of the casualisation of the workforce desperately attempting to meet service demands through overtime.
The government's response to its own cuts is to throw money at mistakes, in trying to recover a failing service by introducing a hapless reward and recognition scheme. These schemes hand out divisive and selective non-consolidated bonuses under "employee of the month", "team of the month" and also bonuses for good attendance.
The bonuses are discriminatory and isolate part-time workers (often women). The workers know that wages are the real reward but department heads are stubborn. Rewards are also being handed to managers who give the most "sick warnings", placing staff on the path to the sack.
Tony Blair addressed the TUC in 2004 and said: "Good jobs don't come with bad working practice, successful employers don't succeed by abusing their employees, quality public services don't achieve excellence by undervaluing public servants".
Yes they don't Tony but DWP staff recognise propaganda from a neo-liberal governments and they'll vote YES for strike action for the protection of jobs and services.
- The ballot includes those in Job Centres, benefit offices, pensions centres and Child Support Agency offices across England, Scotland and Wales. It closes on 6 January.
In The Socialist 15 December 2005: