TERRIBLE recent news of retail closures and job cuts across Britain’s high streets prove the truth of the dire warnings that the CWU (Communications Workers Union) has raised about the damage being done to the Crown Post Office network over the past few years.
‘Sadly, over the past few weeks, we’ve heard repeated news stories of shop workers being put out of work and retailers shutting shops – and only yesterday WH Smith announced that some 1,500 jobs – approximately 11 per cent of its whole workforce – could be cut,’ says CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey.
‘As well as being an awful time for workers in that company and across this sector – the retail jobs crisis also of course raises extremely serious questions about the Crown office services that have been taken over by this retailer and others over the recent period.’
Furey has written two urgent letters to Post Office chief executive Nick Read, specifically raising concerns about two instances – in Chorley, Lancashire and Kirkby on Merseyside – where Crown offices which have already been franchised are now being offered out again by the Post Office.
‘I expressed my view in strong terms to Mr Read at this state of affairs – that at this time, when these particular franchise exercises have clearly failed, and against the backdrop of closures and job losses right across the retail sector, it is nothing short of astonishing that the Post Office still seems intent on stubbornly pursuing this deeply damaging strategy.’
In both letters, the CWU says, ‘Furey patiently sets out in detail the union’s reasonable and rational arguments against franchising and draws particular attention to the way that our remaining Crown offices have provided an excellent and much-needed service to the British public during the terrible recent period.
‘If private retailers are closing units, then those with franchised Crown office services are extremely vulnerable – and surely now the people charged with running the Post Office must realise that it’s time to call a final halt to this policy.
‘As I’ve made clear to Mr Read, our country needs a stable, dedicated Crown Post Office network – and the current high street retail crisis, coming on top of the Covid-19 pandemic, provide a full and complete vindication of every warning this union has made about the dangers of franchising.’
- The government’s plans to extend hours in 21 Universal Credit service centres and Jobcentres until 8.00pm on weekdays and increase face-to face contact with the public will be put to civil servants’ union PCS members in a consultative ballot running from 17 August to 7th September.
The PCS said yesterday: ‘We represent tens of thousands of civil servants working for DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) who have been working flat out during lockdown, supporting claimants to access Universal Credit, benefits and employment support.
‘However, with ministers insisting Jobcentres should open to the public, including beyond normal office hours without consulting us or doing a proper risk assessment, PCS has decided to launch a consultative ballot to get the views of all union members working in Jobcentres and the 21 Universal Credit service centres.
‘A further statutory ballot would have to be held and reach the 50% turnout threshold for any strike action to go ahead.
‘DWP has informed PCS that 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC service centres will extend their operating hours to 8.00pm and Saturdays from 30 November. It could also be extended to other offices in the future.
‘Ballots will be sent out by email to members who have registered a personal email address for an online vote, while those who do not have a registered email address will receive a postal ballot paper, which they will need to complete and post to the independent scrutineer.
‘We are urging members to vote yes to support our demands on:
‘Safety – during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of Covid-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to reopen Jobcentres to the public at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk.
‘Equality for part-year members – deciding to hold a 5-week planning period when most part-year staff will not be at work will undoubtedly put those members at a disadvantage when their working patterns will be decided.
‘They will be excluded from the planning process that determines when they may have to work to 8.00pm or on Saturdays. DWP has failed to carry out an equality analysis which is directly disadvantaging those members with a protective characteristic who will be absent from work during the month of August.
‘Failure to identify a business requirement – PCS does not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand for DWP to extend operating hours to 8.00pm or on Saturdays from the end of November.
‘Failure to meaningfully consult with the unions – During the pandemic PCS has met DWP at least twice a week and successfully negotiated improvements for staff on a wide range of issues such as health and safety, annual leave and personnel policy changes. DWP is required to meaningfully consult PCS on any proposed change to opening hours.
‘Appallingly, DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours and has made clear that it does not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it.
‘We have written to the DWP to demand:
1 It withdraws its notice to staff to extend operating hours;
2 There is no escalation of footfall in the Jobcentre estate and only interviews with those identified as the most vulnerable are conducted in Jobcentres throughout the course of the pandemic;
3 Changes put in place during the pandemic, which have allowed the focus to be on paying benefits to those who need them, continue with no escalation in labour market activity;
4 Meaningful consultation on the demand to extend services and the risk assessment process to take place nationally prior to any formal notice issued to staff;
5 A full equality analysis to be carried out on both the extended hours and re-opening of Jobcentres in consultation with PCS and identified risks fully mitigated.
‘If DWP does not agree to our demands by 17 August we have made clear we will be in dispute.
‘Members should allow until Tuesday 25 August to receive their ballot paper, before requesting a replacement.’
- Aviation workers have staged a demonstration at Belfast International Airport calling for Westminster and Stormont to step in to save jobs.
The Keep Northern Ireland Connected – Save Our Airports protest was part of a national effort demanding action to protect the sector which has been devastated by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Three months of lockdown and ongoing restrictions over travel in efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19 have left the industry in what the union Unite has termed an ‘unprecedented crisis’.
Three MPs – Paul Girvan and Sammy Wilson of the DUP as well as Stephen Farry of the Alliance Party – were among those who attended.
Unite regional officer George Brash said workers are ‘hugely frustrated … aviation in Northern Ireland is facing a tsunami of redundancies.
‘In March, Rishi Sunak promised a package to save aviation and he has not fulfilled that promise so this is a national demonstration. But for Northern Ireland in particular, this is massive to safeguard jobs and it is massive to save regional connectivity to Northern Ireland.’
He added that the demonstration is only the start of the union’s campaign for Stormont to take action to safeguard airports, and protect regional connectivity and workers’ jobs.
‘There has been dithering and delay from Stormont, and there has been dithering and delay from Westminster,’ he said.
‘What we are asking for local politicians to do is put pressure on Rishi Sunak to fulfill the promises he made.
‘In July, he made a comment that there would be inevitable job losses, deadweight. Workers are not deadweight, they have the right to work. We are here to support them, support our airports and connectivity for Northern Ireland.’
Paul Girvan MP insisted the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) has been using whatever influence it has at Westminster to highlight the plight of the aviation