Benefits Agency staff threaten Christmas strike

1 Nov 01
Benefits payments over the Christmas period could be thrown into chaos as the largest civil service union announced it would hold a strike ballot among its 50,000 members working in Benefits Agency offices.

02 November 2001

The Public and Commercial Services union made the decision after a meeting with Prime Minister Tony Blair on October 29 failed to resolve the long-running dispute, which is over the removal of security screens in the new Jobcentre Plus offices.

The union says removing the transparent screens, which is happening as employment service and Benefit Agency offices are integrated to form the new centres, would leave workers open to physical attack by claimants.

According to the PCS, 2,300 of its members have been on strike in 57 offices from Aberdeen to London since September 22. If members vote yes in the ballot, being held on November 6, all-out strike action will be launched in 1,400 offices in December.

PCS general secretary-elect Mark Serwotka said the union wanted to find a negotiated settlement. 'We agreed with the prime minister that we wanted to resolve this issue without escalating the strike action. But management have withdrawn their final offer,' he said. 'We want to get back round the negotiating table.'

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions told Public Finance that the new centres had a dual function, offering tips on finding work as well as claiming benefits. 'This has to be done in a predominantly unscreened environment,' he added.

He refused to comment directly on the forthcoming ballot, but said the existing strike had not disrupted services. 'Our experience of the strike has been that the effect is minimal. We are, of course, drawing up contingency plans.'


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