Thursday, 16 July 2015

Support the Universal Credit Service Centre Strike!

On Monday next week PCS members at Bolton and Glasgow Universal Credit Service Centre's are walking-out for 48 hours with further action planned.

Horrendous Conditions

Staff are taking action to oppose managements imposition of new 'Ways of Working' proposals which severely restricts access to flexi-time and schedules strict start and finish times. This in addition to all the other pressures staff working on Universal Credit face on a day-to-day basis including excessive demand to meet targets, infamously poor IT systems, poor levels of training, high-levels of stress and chronic under-staffing and use of temporary staff for permanent work has resulted in completely unacceptable working conditions for staff.

The union have been raising these concerns with the employer for over six months with no commitment from management to address them. Indeed they have implemented all proposals without any significant changes being made.

Our Demands

The demands of the strike are as follows:
  1. Withdrawal of the Ways of Working proposals 
  2. Full access to flexi-time in UC
  3. Existing working patterns to be honoured 
  4. Increased staffing levels, including permanent posts for all temporary staff 
  5. Improved learning and development for UC staff 
  6. An end to the oppressive management culture in UC 
  7. Improved IT and training to enable members in UC to have the tools to do the job 
  8. Access to annual leave when members need to take it 
  9. The introduction of a standard operating approach for UC service centres that encapsulates these demands
The Ballot

The ballot, which ran until the 6th of July, would have beaten the proposed anti-union legislation announced by the government yesterday.

PCS represents 80% of staff in across both sites. On a turnout of 56%, 84% voted for strike action and 90% for action short of a strike, beating both the proposed 50% turnout and the 40% in-favour quota.

The 2-day strike on Monday and Tuesday will be followed up by a 4-week overtime ban with the threat of further strike action  if no substantial movement is seen from the other side.

Solidarity Action

Labour movement activists are encouraged to show solidarity with these members in at least one of three ways

  1. Pass a motion of solidarity with the branches in your union branch or Trades Council. Messages can be sent to Pete Entwistle, Bolton & Bury PCS Branch Secretary at
  2. Get your union branch or donate money yourself to the Bolton strike-fund.
    Name: Hardship Account, S/C: 08-60-01, A/C: 20309163
  3. Come and join us on the picket-line on Monday at Bolton Service Centre. Bring banners, tea, food etc. We're meeting at 7pm sharp at:
    Bolton Benefit Centre
    Elizabeth House
    21 Back Spring Gardens
    Bolton, BL1 1SJ
    We will be meeting at the main-door which is directly opposite the Octagon Theatre car-park.
Of course we also show solidarity with our brothers and sisters on strike in the Glasgow office and as soon as we receive information about their activity we will publish here.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

March Against Austerity!

On Saturday 20th June a National Demonstration will be taking place in London demanding amongst other things:
  • An end to cuts and Austerity
  • Reversal of Privatisation
  • A well-funded National Heath Service
  • Affordable homes for all.
Our region encourages all members to march to illustrate the level of support among working-class people for policies that serve our interests as opposed to the interests of the rich and powerful represented by this government.

The union in the North-West is putting on free coach travel to and from the demonstration on the day with pick-up points in Manchester, Liverpool and Preston. 

Please contact your branch secretary as listed on this site or for more information or to book transport.

For more information on the demo go to the facebook page.

Support the North West Contact Centre Campaign!

Support Our Campaign 

PCS will call upon management to seriously consider these issues, in the hope CCS management begin to realise staff are their key assets, not their key problem.

PCS Reps from the North West Contact Centres met recently with PCS NW Committee members to discuss the current continuing issues impacting members in our Contact Centres.

The meeting established patterns and trends within Contact Centres in the North West. The perception of PCS is that the majority of these issues emanate from national decisions by the Contact Centre Senior Management Team and Network Management.

It is the intention of the Regional Committee to campaign around the following demands. Your support is vital if we are to stop the continuing erosion of working conditions in Contact Centres:
  1. End to micro-management; allow line managers to manage 
  2. Fair performance management 
  3. Annual leave levels to be 25% with in-work leave/network days allowed 
  4. Full access to flexible working 
  5. Fair and transparent application of DWP policies (MA, people performance, SPL/sick leave) 
  6. Permanent jobs for FTAs 
  7. Job security for AA grade staff.
Reps spoke of members’ anger at recent decisions relating to everything from Attendance Management, and Performance Management, to Annual leave issues and the withdrawal of team meetings, 1-2-1s and CSL courses, amongst other things.

The overarching theme and belief is that there is currently a lack of clear governance and transparency in respect of the decisions made by senior management. The requirement of local managers to enforce these decisions has damaged employee relations at local levels.

PCS noted with regret the regressive approach of CCS management, and the lack of clarity and transparency of decisions made by the current regime. PCS noted the progress made following the CCS-PCS dispute settlement, in which employee relations normalised and real progressive changes made, in what CCS delivers and how. The emerging belief amongst all reps was that senior managers have, or are in the process of, returning to the tried and failed methods of CCD.

As a result, PCS reps recognised key areas which members feel strongly about, and which should form the basis for talks with management, and GEC members.

Annual Leave 

 Reps noted recent caps on annual leave, and the forecasted reduction of leave. In some circumstances this is projected as low as 12%-for some service lines. Reps also felt that members in CCS were wilfully being declined access, or even consideration of utilising flexi-time, in the manner intended. This is particular acute in respect of ‘early finishes’ or in-day leave. Reps agreed a real substantive agreement was necessary, to end confusion and the lack of transparency with this provision. 

Performance Management 

PCS noted the return of micro management of individuals, albeit, ironically alongside the withdrawal of 1-2-1s.

PCS discussed the sub-prime and discriminatory nature of CCS’ Performance framework. Even following substantive changes to this framework, members are left with a reductionist approach to performance-which still continues to discriminate against those who maybe part time staff, disabled, carers. This list is not exhaustive.

Additionally, CCS has begun to incorporate strict targets into Key Work Objectives. PCS doubt these would satisfy DWP’s SMART criteria. It remains to be seen how hard Part Time staff or disabled people will have to work to reach their CRCT target, if they can reach it at all

Working Pattern requests 

Members have been subjected to arbitrary decision making when requesting a change in working pattern, or consideration of partial retirement.

No substantive investigation takes place following a request. No Management Information is presented-to support the belief the PCA cannot support it. No attempts by management are made to negotiate, with a view to an acceptable settlement for both DWP and the individual.

The Decline of Governance 

Examples are numerous, but PCS noted the withdrawal of team meetings and 1-2-1s, the cancelling of CSL courses, the withdrawal of TDA-exposing team leaders to more work and pressure, and limiting the support for staff.

In some cases these reactions have proven unnecessary, with some meetings reinstated later in the same week-in a confused and hurried manner.

More widely, PCS are not generally consulted when appropriate, at the relevant level. Decision making is often poor and seldom properly explained or communicated to staff.

Managers reference the position of the PCA, without providing figures, or context. In some circumstances staff are asked to inform their manager should they wish to invoke their contractual right to a one hour lunch. Other members are tarred with ‘not working their shift’ when they do so. 

Members and reps continue to report problems with the management of Attendance Management, Special Leave requests and Flexi Credits for appointments.

The NW Committee and reps resolved that PCS must attempt-again-to remedy these issues for members. PCS note the operational pressure on DWP; however these problems are not the making of PCS members, and management have had over six years now to conclude this wasn’t working.

End of Year Appraisals

Your union can represent you in these cases too.

The guidance is long and involved so it is best to talk to your rep about your situation.

You should always raise a grievance if your box marking comes as a surprise. If the marking has changed since your mid-year review you should have been made aware that things were likely to change.

Management are raising the stakes with appraisal saying that they don’t expect people to get a “Must Improve” two years running. We are concerned that there will be more use of capability procedures to try and get rid of those of us getting Must Improve markings. Make sure you raise a grievance against these markings with PCS help.

In many cases there is a good chance you will win.

The PCS regional committee is concerned that the whole appraisal process is flawed and discriminatory. For example we learnt last year in GMCC District that full timers, non-disabled people, those from the majority ethnic group and women who are in a majority in the workforce, were all more likely to get an Exceeded box marking and with the exception of non-disabled staff, were less likely to get a Must Improve. The higher the grade, the more likely staff were, to get an Exceeded and the less likely they were to get a Must Improve.

Exceeded markings were much more common for those aged 16-24 and much less common for those over 60 and staff under 30 and over 60 were more likely to get must improves. Similar patterns are to be found in other parts of the Department.

If we are to change the system we must all challenge it by raising grievances about anything that appears to be unfair.

Attendance Management - Know Your Rights!

PCS can represent you at any stage of the DWP Attendance Management sickness absence procedures. If you are called to a meeting always talk to your rep and take them with you. 

Information held on you 

We know that senior managers are involving themselves in decisions on attendance management cases. This is not always made clear by line managers.

The easiest way to find out what information is being used in your case is to submit a Subject Access request under the Data Protection Act. To do this send an email to saying you are applying for your records under the Data Protection Act (1998). Ask the DWP to send you, within 40 days, all information held on paper or electronically about you.

If you want you can name the managers you think hold information about you and you can request specific information. For example you may want to ask for all advice provided by a more senior manager to your line manager in relation to attendance management.

 Make Your Own Decisions 

As a line manager it is your responsibility and your right to make any decisions relating to attendance management for staff on your team. When PCS discusses the involvement of more senior managers we are told that they are only involved to ensure consistency and provide advice.

However, in practice we know there is pressure on line managers to accept the advice as an instruction. We are asking all PCS members who are line managers to stand up to this pressure. If you have various pieces of advice it is your responsibility to give them appropriate weight. For example it would be reasonable to give more weight to medical evidence from the OHS and a person’s own GP, than advice from someone who is not medically trained and who has never met the person concerned.

You cannot be disciplined for using your discretion. Please report any situations where you are being told not to use discretion to your union rep.

Disabled Employees Trigger Points 

 If you have a disability that affects your attendance you should have an attendance management trigger point which is suitable for you. If you are having difficulties with the attendance management procedures and you think you may reach the usual 8-day trigger point (or the equivalent if you are part time) or you think you may reach four periods of absence, tell your manager you want to be considered for a raised trigger point.

You do not have to prove you are disabled. Your manager should make a decision based on the balance of probability. The DWP guidance tells managers that they should ideally make decisions on DETPs themselves without getting advice from HR or the OHS.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

North-West Contact Centre Update

Following consultation with Contact Centre TU reps from all North West branches, regional TU representatives identified a number of issues of concern. Members made it clear to reps that they were willing to take IA over the issue.

Regional TU representatives have now met with North West CCS Group management and secured agreement in the following areas:

Access to leave
It was agreed that site managers should not be imposing restrictions on the discretion of line managers to authorise leave, and that the leave should be authorised in line with national instructions. National restrictions on access to leave, including network days, need to be dealt with by national TU representatives.

It was agreed that line managers should be approaching the use of after call work, break times and medical appointment credits in a reasonable manner.

Agency workers
It was confirmed that there were no plans to recruit more agency workers in the North West. All staff employed by agencies had been given the opportunity to apply for FTA posts with DWP with a view to permanency.

Fixed term appointment staff 
Our position on the need to retain FTA staff, and offer them full time permanent postings was acknowledged. It was agreed that this needed to be dealt with urgently by national TU.

It was agreed that better planning was needed to maximise the number of staff who wished to work until 18:00 hours, in order to minimise the number of staff who did not wish to do so. AA staff on former transformation sites – it was agreed that the majority of AA staff in NW CCS, who were declared surplus last year, are no longer under the threat of redundancy, and that work needed to be undertaken to secure permanent postings for the remaining few.

CEF definitions
It was agreed that the revised definitions needed to be reviewed, in order to ensure that a claimant’s dissatisfaction with a decision outcome was not classed as poor service on the part of the agent. Part time preferences – it was agreed that all staff should be receiving 80% schedule preferences, irrespective of the number of days per week worked.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Victory to the Birchwood Apprentices

After a campaign by the union locally in Birchwood and national escalation the Department has withdrawn all compulsory moves. The staff will be able to choose their permanent workplace and remain on the Apprentiship.

The Regional Committee thanks these members for sticking to their guns and refusing to accept the move despite huge management pressure to do so. This is their victory.

The branch and the DWP Group will be releasing more comprehensive updates shortly.

The union makes us strong.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Garston Call Centre Dispute

After 8 days strike action, in addition to two days taken in support of the national campaign, the fight to keep open Garston Contact Centre in Liverpool has finally come to an end with the last staff moving out of Cressington House on 30th January.

Although we failed in our primary aim of keeping the site open, much has in fact been gained. When the closure was announce in at the end of January last year the only offers of relocation on offer from management was Birkenhead CMG and Bootle Call Centres.

This was totally unacceptable for many staff many of whom had been transferred to Garston following earlier closures, especially of Liverpool Contact Centre and Huyton Benefit Centre only 3 years ago.

The spirit and solidarity displayed by the Garston members was magnificent with 53 members out of around 150 turning out to picket during the week long strike in October, and throughout the campaign members’ support and participation has been high.

The cost of the closure at around £750.000 dwarfs the £100,000 alternative compromise proposals put to management by PCS would have cost.

At the heart of the campaign was opposition to the Governments’ austerity agenda, in defence of services and against treating PCS members like bits if office furniture.

If we had not fought all staff would have gone to Birkenhead or Bootle. But because of the resistance only 82 of the original 164 members balloted have moved to Bootle. Compulsory moves to Birkenhead taken out of the equation all together and 66 posts found in alternative locations for staff with the worst mobility, health and caring responsibilities. In addition to this DWP has for the first time agreed to extend the payment of excess fares to five years from the usual three.

None of this would have been achieved without a determined fight.

Although failing in the primary aim of the campaign the clear lessons to be learnt is that resistance brings results. With no let up in austerity there will need to be more fights like Garston’s in the future to take place alongside national action.