Wigan Job Centre Covid outbreak highlights union's concerns over reopening plans

A union has raised concerns about the DWP’s plans for a full reopening of job centres, after an outbreak at the Wigan office.

Tuesday, 25th May 2021, 4:55 pm

Brocol House in King Street was closed for a deep clean after 17 Covid cases were confirmed, but had reopened on Monday, May 17.

But staff are still extremely concerned, particularly amid increasing reports of the so-called Indian variant across the North West.

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Job centre in Wigan closed after Covid-19 outbreak

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Brocol House in King Street was closed for a deep clean after 17 Covid cases were confirmed

The town’s MP, Lisa Nandy, has also written to the DWP for clarity on the department’s plans for safer operations at job centres.

Following the 10-day circuit breaker at Wigan’s job centre, the office was meant to open to vulnerable customers only, with a skeleton staff, but local reps say at least five non-vulnerable JSA claimants attended the office on Monday for face to face interviews.

The worry has resulted in PCS (Public and Commercial Services) union chiefs conducting a group wide consultative ballot on the imposed changes by DWP, in having a full reopening of job centres despite the vaccine not being fully rolled out and new Covid variants causing alarm in communities around the UK.

The ballot will close on June 2.

PCS industrial officer Mark Page said: “Job centres should not be fully reopening for staff and claimants as to do so would risk further infections, like what we have seen in Wigan.

“The fact that this outbreak occurred when the job centres were not fully reopened and Covid safety measures are supposedly in place, shows the high risks DWP are taking with members and claimants health and safety.

“DWP needs to pause the reopening and engage in constructive discussions with the union to resolve the issues at Wigan and elsewhere across the jobcentre estate.”

In a letter to the DWP, Ms Nandy wrote: “You will be aware that staff in job centres across the UK have also expressed their concerns about the decision of your department to considerably increase face-to-face services in job centres. This decision was made without formal consultation with trade unions and there are widespread concerns that adequate risk assessments have not been conducted in advance of the increased activity within job centres and the opening up of face to face services at this time creates the potential risk of increasing the transmission of Covid-19 in local communities.

“Staff at job centres and the PCS union are calling on you to reverse recent increases in face-to-face activity until such a time as communities can be adequately protected and the vaccination programme has been completed for all age groups and I would be grateful for your consideration of their views.”

A UK Government spokesperson said: “Colleague and customer safety is our priority as our jobcentres provide vital support to those who need it.

“We continue to work closely with the unions to ensure our sites are Covid secure in line with PHE and Government guidance and keep health and safety under constant review.”

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