Sheffield Jobcentre Workers Launch Their Two-Week Strike!

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Sheffield Eastern Avenue jobcentre workers on the picket line during their last strike in June
Sheffield Eastern Avenue jobcentre workers on the picket line during their last strike in June

JOBCENTRE workers in Sheffield launch their two-week strike this morning, stepping up their action against the planned closure which the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) rightfully insist will have a devastating impact on the workers and job seekers alike.

The union’s 50 members at Eastern Avenue jobcentre are campaigning to protect services for unemployed, sick and disabled people. The walkout follows week-long strikes in June and July. The union says closing the office would remove a vital public service covering one of the most deprived areas of the city, forcing claimants to travel much further to access the services they need to find work.

Many of the claimants are sick, disabled or with young children and the extra journey would make it harder to access employment and training opportunities The campaign is building against the government’s plans to axe almost one in 10 jobcentres across the UK.

On Saturday a demonstration took place outside Whitley Bay jobcentre in the seaside town on the north east coast of England. The centre, on Whitley Road, is due to close later this month, and staff and claimants will then be asked to move to the North Shields branch. Fran Heathcote, president of the PCS union, DWP group, said: ‘This closure will take our services and jobs out of the community, at a time when there is so much regeneration going on in Whitley Bay. It seems nonsensical to remove access to these services.

‘The DWP says North Shields is only three miles away. Whilst that is true, it will still have a major effect on claimants who are vulnerable and can ill afford the transport costs. Our members feel really strongly about this and believe these people will be let down. The staff members in Whitley Bay also have their own responsibilities and family commitments. A number of them walk to work – they will also need to move. We have asked the DWP to co-locate the jobcentre services within local authority premises in the town, but they have refused this as well. It’s an absolute disgrace.’

A strike takes place there on Thursday and Friday (17/18), and members at Hoylake jobcentre in Merseyside will strike later this month. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is due to join the union’s national president Janice Godrich and Labour MP Hugh Gaffney at a demonstration in Coatbridge on Friday 25th August.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell sent a message of support to the Sheffield strikers in June saying: ‘The DWP has forced through this office closure programme with no consideration for either the service or the staff.’

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘We will continue to fight to save jobcentres that provide a lifeline for unemployed, sick and disabled people. It is utterly disgraceful that this Tory government is abandoning our communities.’

Meanwhile, jobseekers in Colne in Lancashire face a trip to Nelson in order to find work, after it was confirmed that Colne Jobcentre is to close. Nelson is two miles from Colne and will cost unemployed jobseekers dearly. It has now confirmed that the centre will close today (Monday) with all 17 staff being transferred to Nelson.

Despite his own party being responsible for the closure Pendle’s Conservative leader Coun. Joe Cooney, who represents the Colne Vivary Bridge ward, said: ‘I’m disappointed the centre is closing. I know the town council held some meetings with the DWP to look at providing some service from the Town Hall but that wasn’t possible.’

Colne man Craig Brown said: ‘I have recently found work and can drive, but I feel for those people in Colne and further afield places like Barnoldswick that will have to travel further. Every penny counts when you are out of work so if there are any extra expenses this could really hurt people.’

Jobcentres and benefit centres are covered by PFI contracts which are now coming to an end. The number of jobcentres set to merge or close will affect up to 750 jobs, the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted. A total of 68 smaller jobcentres will be merged with larger ones, and 40 others will be moved within local government buildings under efficiency savings. Four will be closed entirely. The PCS said that the ‘utterly disgraceful’ plans will see more than 70 branches shuttered.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This Tory government is abandoning unemployed, sick and disabled people, making it harder for them to access the services they need, and putting jobcentre jobs at risk.’

Meanwhile, hundreds of people have signed a petition against the government’s ‘savage’ decision to close the Mountain Ash Jobcentre. Mountain Ash is a town and community in the Cynon Valley, within the County Borough of Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales. The announcement was made earlier this year, with customers and benefits claimants told they must travel some four miles to the centre in Aberdare to access the facilities, and the petition was launched last month.

The petition, called ‘Ask the Department for Work and Pensions to stop the closure of Mountain Ash Jobcentre Plus’, has gathered more than 250 signatures from concerned Cynon Valley residents. But the DWP claims the Jobcentre was becoming ‘increasingly under used’, with more and more services being offered online.

People are angry claimants will find the extra travelling time more difficult or not possible whatsoever. Their reasons also include not enough people in the area have access to computers and smart phones, so rely on the centre for that, as well as that the distance between Aberdare and Mountain Ash does not take into account the distance some claimants have to travel to attend the office already.

They also demand those who must now travel further are compensated, and that the area is already among the most deprived in Wales, with this being ‘another blow’. Councillor Andrew Morgan, leader of RCT Council and Councillor for Mountain Ash West, said: ‘Once again the Conservative government has shown an utter disregard for the people of the Valleys, with this decision very clearly taken at a desk in London by DWP Ministers who simply have no understanding of the massive impact that this will have on those seeking access to employment opportunities.

‘This sadly seems to be yet another example of the Tories taking valuable services and local employment away from the South Wales Valleys. The personal finances of those who make use of the services offered at the Jobcentre will invariably be stretched already, and to then expect those individuals to travel to Aberdare or Pontypridd shows an absence of care and concern for people’s circumstances.’

When it was first announced in July, it was called a ‘shortsighted’ decision, and is alongside a number of other closures including Llanelli’s benefits office, which will see the loss of 146 jobs. The Mountain Ash closure means claimants and staff will have to travel to the Aberdare Jobcentre Plus at the Crown Buildings near Aberdare Library, some four miles away from the Mountain Ash branch off the A4059, New Road.

Coun Morgan, who is spokesman for the RCT Labour group, added: ‘I am disappointed that this decision has been taken executively, with absolutely no engagement or consultation sought from RCT Council, and I will be writing to Damian Green MP to ask why this was the case. Once again, it is Labour that is fighting to protect our Valleys communities from the savage Tory cuts, and I would urge everyone to please sign our petition to oppose this ill-thought decision.’