DWP – Pull out all the stops to win the ballot

DWP putting safety at increased risk, Pull out all the stops to win the ballot

If ever there was a ballot we must win, this is it. Let’s be clear – this dispute is about safety. There have been grim predictions from prominent scientists about the prospect of a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter. In these circumstances, it would be very dangerous to extend operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit ServiceCentres from November 30th. Yet – this is exactly what the DWP intends to do.

This is a political decision. We have to send a message back that we won’t let the Government, and DWP, play around with our lives.

This issue affects every Jobcentre member, including those who have opted out of the Employee Deal, and even those who don’t currently work in one of the offices where the employer intends to extend operating hours from 30th November, and every member based in one of the 21 Service Centre sites where the employer wants to extend operating hours.

If you work in a Jobcentre which isn’t immediately affected by the current DWP plans, please be aware – DWP have informed PCS that all Jobcentres, subject to viability, will extend their operating hours at some point in the future.

If you’ve opted out of the Employee Deal, don’t be under any illusion that this issue doesn’t affect you as well. If you are working in an office where the hours get extended, the safety risks increase for everyone in that office, even those who are not working during the extended hours.

Even if it were safe to extend the hours, there is no rational reason to do it. We’ve previously been told the DWP might want to extend operating hours because many people who claim Universal Credit also work, and might not be able to access Jobcentre services during Monday-Friday 9-5, and some other people might prefer to visit Jobcentres on a Saturday due to needing a quieter environment. Neither of these scenarios are issues now, any more than they were issues before the onset of the pandemic.

Management’s latest argument is that there is likely to be another spike in unemployment over the next few months. They claim this means they need to expand operating hours. But that just makes no sense at all. Jobcentre staff have already copedwith 2.5 million extra Universal Credit claims earlier during the pandemic, by changing their working practices. There was no need for extended hours then, and there is no need for them now.

Political pressure

The government’s drive to reopen the economy, no matter the increased risk to safety it causes, is being mimicked by DWP right now.

Left Unity are aware of DWP’s plans to bring more customers in to our Jobcentres in thecoming weeks, we know they intend to reopen medical assessment centres bringing thesick and vulnerable in for assessment, and intend to ramp up of the conditionality and sanctions regime. At a time when infection rates are on the rise and a second spike of Covid is likely, and when the economic crisis will leave millions out of work and companies cutting back or closing altogether, to increase face-to-face activity in our offices and put pressure those on benefits by reinstating the previous hardline benefit regime is disgrace. They are placing the lives of our members and the most vulnerable in society at risk.

It is imperative that we get a good turnout in this consultative safety ballot. Feedback from members is positive. First demanding to know when they were going to receive their ballot papers, and many since eager to tell us they have voted, we are confident we can achieve a high turnout. This will enable the LU led GEC to go back to DWP, tell them our members don’t accept it is safe to extend operating hours from 30th November,or extend services in Jobcentres, and demand once again that they withdraw their plans.

If, at that stage, they still insist on going ahead, we will seriously need to consider holding a Statutory Ballot, which would be a strike ballot. If we wanted to take action as a result of that, not only would we need to have the majority in favour, we would also, due to the Tory anti-trade union laws, have to get at least 50% of members voting in that ballot. We need to be in a position where we’re confident we can achieve that.

For the next ten days Left Unity urge reps and members to pull out all of the stops to deliver a huge turnout and drive out the vote in the consultative ballot. Branches need tocontinue issuing regular updates and reminders to members, urge them to speak to others about the importance of voting, involve PCS Advocates in this process, and find ways to keep checking whether members have submitted their votes.

The relaunched Branch app is a great tool in helping us to do this, and every branch should use it. Meetings of members need to take place urgently if they haven’t already. Some branches have already held successful Zoom meetings, uniting those working in the office with those working at home.

This ballot has to be an absolute priority for all of us. Let’s make sure we win it.