Jobcentre Plus staff join national strike

DOZENS of striking civil servants joined the picket line outside Sheffield’s Jobcentre Plus to protest at what they describe as “dire working conditions” and concerns over customer service.

Staff at the Hartshead Square centre joined colleagues at 36 other Jobcentre call centre sites to stage a national day of action.

Public and Commercial Services union reps in Sheffield called the action after members returned “an overwhelming vote in favour of action”.

PCS representative Faye Bates said target-driven working practices meant staff had to deal with calls from new claimants in under 16 minutes.

Follow-up inquiries had to be dealt with in under three.

Ms Bates said targets were increasing stress levels and damaging morale.

“We are in a position where we are unable to do our jobs properly and this is causing morale to be down.”

Union rep Rosie Huzzard said that increased stress had caused sickness levels at the call centre to quadruple in the past six months.

“Staff are forced into a position where they have to force claimants to get off the phone, for fear of threats and disciplinary action.

“Staff are also very poorly trained, which deliberately limits the amount of help they can give. People are furious with the way they are treated at work.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Staff have good terms of employment including generous holidays and have a good amount of flexibility.

“But we have to ensure our service is available when our customers, who include some of the most vulnerable people in the country, need us.

“We use performance measures to ensure that performance and productivity are high, and we deliver value for money for the taxpayer.”