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PCS picket line outside Baltic House in Norwich yesterday. PCS secretary for Norfolk and Suffolk, Dave Seagrave (lefy)
JOBCENTRE staff who deal with calls from people entitled to benefits and crisis loans went on strike yesterday over oppressive working conditions and unrealistic targets.

More than 6,000 PCS members in 32 call centres in England, Scotland and Wales reignited industrial action first taken last year against draconian conditions that prevent them providing the kind of service callers require and deserve.

Jobcentre management refuse to give staff the flexibility they need to deal with enquiries fully and professionally. A shortage of staff is also adding to problems.

Some flexibility on targets allowed for call handling times has been introduced, but set at arbitrary levels that, worryingly, favour shorter calls over ones that might take a bit longer.

The union says this appears to confirm fears that jobcentre bosses are only interested in getting claimants off the phone rather than dealing with their enquiries properly.

There was a lively PCS picket at the Department of Work and Pensions contact centre in Norwich.

PCS secretary for Norfolk and Suffolk, Dave Seagrave said: ‘It’s another well supported action. There are lots of delays in claims and people are not being phoned up. It can take up to a month.

‘Claimants can only get three crisis loans in a year. The government is stopping crisis loans from March 2013 and it’s going over to local councils, which are making cuts.

‘If a claim takes too long to be processed, the claimant could lose their housing benefit and could be homeless.

‘Consequently, people get desperate waiting for call backs, with no payments and all we can say is someone will call you.

‘It’s chaos behind the scenes. We are trying to deliver services to the public which are getting worse all the time. Our members are going off with stress.

‘The bottom line is staffing. Last year they closed three contact centres. Contact centres nationally are under head count.

‘With regard to action, one day is not enough. We have a weak and divided coalition government. We need co-ordinated action by the unions and could win and get rid of this government.’

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘With unemployment remaining high and our economy in the grip of recession, it is shameful that jobcentre bosses are still refusing to let their staff provide the kind of help and advice that people need.

‘These call centres provide a vital lifeline. Enquiries are often complicated, and people struggling to find their way around the benefits system are often understandably desperate and upset, but staff are being forced to end calls as quickly as possible just to meet an artificial target.

‘Our members care about the services they provide and they want to be able to help people properly, not have to fob them off.’


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