WIGAN Jobcentre call handler staff joined a national strike over their “oppressive target-driven” culture.
Hundreds of Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) staff at the giant Griffin House processing centre in Bryn - one of six centres which deal with inquiries from people entitled to benefits - walked out yesterday over working conditions and “unrealistic” targets, the Public and Commercial Services union confirmed.
Shop stewards said that despite negotiations and a review of services designed to ease the excessive target-driven culture, Jobcentre bosses were still refusing to give staff the flexibility they need to deal with inquiries fully and professionally. A shortage of staff was also adding to problems. Some flexibility to the targets allowed for call handling times has been introduced, the union concede, but it had been set at “arbitrary levels” that favoured shorter calls.
The union says this appears to confirm fears that Jobcentre management only remain interested in “getting claimants off the phone” rather than dealing with their inquiries properly.
A spokesman for Wigan PCS branch 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 and our members care about the services they provide and they want to be able to help people properly, not have to fob them off.
“Inquiries 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.
A DWP spokesman said: “We are disappointed that some staff are taking industrial action which we think is unnecessary.
“We have gone to great lengths to resolve issues with unions.
“Jobcentres and benefit payments were unaffected and any impact was limited.”