Universal Credit call handlers working at centres in Wolverhampton and Walsall have overwhelmingly voted in favour of strike action, accussing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) of treating them with “utter contempt”.
A ballot of PCS members working for the DWP on it’s troubled scheme was announced earlier this month, warning of “severe under investment, staff shortages and criticism from claimants on how they are treated”.
It means that around 274 call handlers who work at the two offices will walk out for 48 hours starting on 11th March, after 90% of those balloted by the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union backed industrial action.
Speaking ahead of the vote, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka challenged assumptions by government ministers that “Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants”, instead arguing that “the opposite is in fact the case”.
He said that is was clear the DWP “want to run this service into the ground”, but the DWP insisted its “top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers”.
Commenting on the result of the ballot, Mark Serwotka said: “The message from our members is clear – changes need to be made otherwise they will walkout for two consecutive days.
“The union has tried to negotiate for months but to no avail. Ministers have stuck their heads in the sand and our members are now sending them a very loud wakeup call.
“PCS members have not taken the decision to strike lightly but the fact is industrial relations have broken down because ministers seem intent on running this service into the ground while treating staff with utter contempt.”
Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “It is shocking that staff working in DWP offices are feeling so stressed through overwork that they are going on strike and calling for the government to recruit more staff.
“Not only is the government’s flagship social security policy Universal Credit failing claimants, the government is also failing the DWP staff who work so hard.
“Labour will deliver a social security system that treats those in need and the people who are employed to support them with respect.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “This result is disappointing, we greatly value the work that our colleagues do and our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers.
“We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.
“Contingencies are underway to ensure the smooth running of our services to minimise any impact.
“We urge PCS to seek to resolve this through further dialogue.”
PCS and its members are calling on the DWP to hire 5,000 new staff, full contracts for fixed-term workers, and a reduction in the number of calls from Universal Credit claimants each case manager is required to handle.