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PCS corona advice

31 July 2020 |PCS to hold Consultative Ballot on the Extending of Operating Hours and Safety in Universal Credit and Jobcentres 
DWP/MB/109/20
To: All Members and GEC, Department for Work & Pensions Group

The Group Executive Committee (GEC) met on 30th July and has agreed to hold a consultative ballot in reaction to the DWP decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 Universal Credit (UC) Service Centres from 30 November 2020. The ballot will be a consultative vote to get the views of all members in Jobcentres and the 21 UC Service Centres. It is not a strike ballot. It will commence on Monday 17 August 2020 and close on Monday 7 September 2020. DWP have informed PCS that all Jobcentres, subject to viability, will extend their operating hours at some point in the future. All members in scope for this consultative ballot are strongly encouraged to vote YES in the ballot in order that pressure is put on the employer to withdraw their decision.

The GEC have been critical of the DWP in deciding to firstly re-open the doors of Jobcentres during the pandemic and now to extend operating hours. PCS are strongly opposed to the extension of operating hours on the following grounds:

•    Safety - during a global pandemic, with many eminent scientists predicting a second wave of COVID-19 in the winter months and as evidence grows of a rise in infection rates, we believe it is wrong to extend operating hours, or to re-open job centres to the public, at this time as it would be putting the safety of our members at risk when there is no requirement to do so. 


•    Equality for part-year members – deciding to hold a 5 week planning period when most part-year staff will not be at work will undoubtedly put those members at a disadvantage when their working patterns will be decided. They will be excluded entirely from the planning process that determines when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. DWP have failed to carry out an equality analysis which is directly disadvantaging those members with a protective characteristic who will be absent from work during the month of August. PCS will be seeking legal advice on this issue.

•    Failure to identify a business requirement to extend operating hours - PCS do not accept that there is evidence of any customer demand of DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays from the end of November. Where opening hours in Jobcentres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the Jobcentres reverted to their normal opening hours. There is no evidence that the increase in UC claimants means that there will be a demand to communicate with DWP at different times of the day. PCS welcome the indication from DWP that the telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, but it demonstrates that there is no requirement for staff to stay until 8pm. No Jobcentre should open beyond 5pm until an agreed risk assessment is in place. 


•    Failure to meaningfully consult with the unions – During the pandemic PCS has met DWP at least twice a week and successfully negotiated improvements for staff on a wide range of issues such as health and safety, annual leave and personnel policy changes.  DWP is required to meaningfully consult PCS on any proposed change to opening hours. Appallingly DWP only gave PCS 48 hours’ notice in advance of the announcement to extend operating hours. They have made clear that they do not intend to meaningfully consult with your union to justify their decision and plan to impose it. That is not acceptable. It is bad industrial relations by the DWP. 

PCS acknowledge DWP can invoke extended operating hours under the Employee Deal, if they have a legitimate operational requirement, but while the pandemic continues the health and safety of our members is our primary concern and should be DWPs. This decision to extend operating increases the risk to our members, other colleagues who work in our offices and the public who use our Jobcentres. PCS will continue to oppose both the decision to extend services in Jobcentres and extend operating hours until it is safe to do. The safety of our members will always come first and is paramount in everything we do.

PCS submit demands in letter to DWP
The GEC have written to the DWP tabling the following demands and stating that if they do not agree by 17 August 2020 we will regard that as creating a trade dispute:

a)    The DWP withdraw their notice to staff to extend operating hours to 8pm, Monday to Friday, and a Saturday in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres from 30 November 2020.
b)    No escalation of footfall in the Jobcentre estate and only interviews with those identified as the most vulnerable are invited in to Jobcentres throughout the course of the pandemic.
c)    The easements put in place during the pandemic, which have allowed the focus to be on paying benefits to those who need them, continue with no escalation in Labour Market activity.
d)    Meaningful consultation on the demand to extend services and the risk assessment process to take place nationally prior to any formal notice issued to staff.
e)    A full equality analysis to be carried out on both the extended hours and re-opening of Jobcentres in consultation with PCS and identified risks fully mitigated.

Vote YES in the consultative ballot
A good turnout in the consultative ballot is vitally important if we are to be successful in forcing DWP to reverse their decisions. This ballot is not about voting to take industrial action. No industrial action can be called by PCS until a legal statutory ballot is held, but we have heard our members concerns over these recent announcements and remain fully committed to engaging with you during these difficult times.

If PCS have your email address you will receive an email telling you how to vote. If we don’t have your email address you will get a letter explaining how you can vote on line or by post.

Please make every effort to vote and in doing so send a message to the DWP that we don’t agree to their re-opening of Job centres to the public or their extending operating hours in 270 Jobcentres and 21 UC Service Centres.

Please speak with any non-members in your office and ask them to join the union as the stronger and more organised we are, the better chance we have of success.

Please look out for and attend any socially distanced members’ meetings that are held at your office, and for further communications from the GEC in the coming weeks. You can either vote online, if PCS holds your personal email address, or by post.

VOTE YES IN THE CONSULTATIVE BALLOT – VOTE YES FOR SAFETY

Martin Cavanagh, Group President       
Ian Pope,  Group Assistant Secretary               
Ian Bartholomew, Group Secretary



30 Jul 2020 | Warm weather working and Coronavirus



With temperatures set to rise over the summer, guidance has been issued for keeping workplaces cool but also safe.

Whether you are working in your usual workplace or working from home, it is important to understand the measures that your employer should take, and what you can do, to protect yourself from the effects of high temperatures while also preventing the spread of coronavirus.

In the workplace

General ventilation
Employers must, by law, ensure an adequate supply of fresh air in the workplace and good ventilation can help reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading. Where possible, you should look at ways to increase the supply of fresh air to your workplace, for example by opening windows and doors (except fire doors). You can also improve the circulation of air by using ceiling fans or desk fans, but this should be in conjunction with good ventilation.

Air conditioning
The risk of air conditioning spreading coronavirus is extremely low as long as there is an adequate supply of fresh air and ventilation. You can continue using most types of air conditioning systems as normal, but it is recommended that you turn off recirculation and use a fresh air supply. If you’re unsure, speak to your heating and air conditioning engineer or maintenance contractor.

Working from home
If you are working from home you also need to protect yourself against the risks of high temperatures.
Think about how you might be able to keep your home cool:

  • shade or cover windows exposed to direct sunlight
  • move to a cooler part of the house, especially for sleeping
  • it may be cooler outside in the shade; think about spending some time outdoors
  • open windows when the air feels cooler outside than inside. Try to get air flowing through the home.
  • turn off lights or electrical equipment that you’re not using, as these can increase the temperature of your home.
Some symptoms of heat-related illnesses, such as a high temperature, headache, loss of appetite, dizziness or shortness of breath can be similar to symptoms of COVID-19. If you or someone else feels unwell during hot weather, you should consider the possibility of heat-related illnesses. If, however, you suspect that you have COVID-19 you should find out how to get tested.

More information can be found on the HSE , Public Health England and NHS websites.



PAY 2020:
Boris Johnson and other ministers have lauded the work UK government workers have done. But now is the time for the government to deliver a fair pay rise, because warm words do not pay the bills.
Sign and share PCS Union’s petition 👇
https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/328754

THE PENSIONS STORM:
Good news about pensions for many PCS members. The government has accepted that it needs to put right the unlawful changes to pensions in 2015.
https://bit.ly/pensionsnews



23 July 2020 | PCS condemns decision to extend operating hours in UC from Nov 30.
DWP briefing DWP/MB/106/20 | To: All Members in DWP Group.

DWP has announced its intention to extend operating hours to 8pm on weekdays, and to Saturdays, at 21 Universal Credit Service Centres and 270 larger Jobcentres, from 30 November 2020. 

Other parts of the department not working on UC will not be affected. UC Service Centres delivering national services will be excluded from this extension, as will smaller Job Centres.

PCS believes that it is irresponsible to even consider doing this while the country remains in the grip of the pandemic. With many eminent scientists warning of a second spike of Covid 19 in the winter months it would be putting the safety of our members at risk to extend operating hours in this way.

No customer demand
PCS does not accept that there is evidence of customer demand on any significant scale for DWP to extend operating hours to 8pm or on Saturdays. Where opening hours in job centres have been extended previously, customer take-up was so low that the job centres reverted to their normal opening hours. The fact that there are now more UC claimants does not mean they will now want to communicate with DWP at different times of the day.

DWP has said that telephone opening hours will not be extended beyond 6pm, which is welcome. But it does beg the question as to why staff will be expected to stay to 8pm when no calls will be received after 6pm and any processing work could as easily be done earlier in the day.

No clarity on job centre opening hours
DWP is unclear what this will mean for Jobcentre opening hours after 5pm. When pressed on this by PCS UC management’s response was to say that this would be a matter for the local leadership and not be decided at a national level, though they did say that job centres will be open to the public on Saturdays. 

As with deciding to reopen Jobcentres, national management have abdicated responsibility and instead pushed the responsibility down to Jobcentre managers to decide whether to open after 5 pm. PCS believes there is no justification in extending the hours the doors in Jobcentres will be open to after 5pm. Any claimant who can only be seen after 5pm could be seen on a by exception basis.

DWP intends to use the 5 weeks from 27 July to 30 August to seek staff’s preferences and hold team discussions to enable them to issue a six monthly working pattern to all UC staff at the end of August to give staff the three months’ notice of their working pattern prior to 30 November.

Unfair treatment of Part Year staff
In deciding this timetable management have ignored the fact that most part year staff will not be at work for the whole of the 5 week planning period when their working pattern will be decided. This excludes them entirely from the planning process that decides when they may have to work to 8pm or on Saturdays. 

Despite claiming to consider equality issues to be of great importance DWP has again shown that in practice it does not care about equality and is prepared to put part year staff at a significant disadvantage. When pressed on this by PCS, DWP did not even acknowledge that this was a problem, simply saying that they have to start sometime. It is disgraceful to treat part year staff so disrespectfully,

Safeguards will apply
PCS will ensure that all the safeguards negotiated as part of the Employee Deal will continue to apply including:
● No more than one late finish in 5 working days
● No more than one Saturday in 4 weeks
● Not to fix both ends of the day
● Assumed consent to continue to apply
● Staff to be able to choose the day that they have off in either the week preceding, or following, any Saturday worked. This includes the Monday following the Saturday.
● Not to make staff work more than 5 days in a working week
● Staff to continue to have access to the Independent Panel to resolve disputes over working patterns.
Opted out staff cannot be made to work beyond their contractual working hours or contractual working days.

Members’ safety
PCS is particularly concerned about the health and safety issues raised by extended working, realising that many of DWP’s offices are located in areas where it is unsafe to be leaving work at 8pm, or where Saturday working may cause additional risk. PCS will be pressing for site by site risk assessments to be held as soon as possible. Branches who believe they have a site that should be excluded from late or Saturday working on safety grounds should notify Group office.

Next Steps
PCS understands that this announcement will be very unwelcome for our members in the sites that are affected. PCS will continue to argue that now is not the right time to extend operating hours and will seek further clarification on the safety and equality concerns that we have. In doing this we will seek to arrange virtual meetings were we can with reps and members. Branches are encouraged to hold on site meetings with members, as long as social distancing can be ensured.

Charles Law - Industrial Officer  / Martin Cavanagh - Group President
Click here.

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