Printed in the Liverpool Daily Post on April 18, 2011.
More than 500 Merseyside call centre staff working for Jobcentre Plus were striking today over working conditions and customer service.
Picket lines were being set up outside centres in Old Hall Street, Liverpool city centre, St Mary’s Road, Garston, and Linacre House, Bootle, as part of a national one- day action.
Workers were protesting about about what they claim is a “target-driven culture” at JCP, an agency of the Department of Work and Pensions, which they said forces them to limit calls from the public to five minutes or face disciplinary action.
The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union regional secretary Peter Middleman said: “It is the same issues in Merseyside call centres which apply across the region – battery-farmed working practices.
“Things have got cumulatively worse, as there are fewer staff and more benefit claimants than there were two or three years ago.
“A new benefit claim can last no more than five minutes, and calls for crisis loans from people with no food to eat have to be dealt with within 17 minutes – you could not get a car insurance quote within that time. These targets have nothing to do with providing a decent service to customers, and in practice have precisely the opposite effect.”
The PCS said employers have an obsession with performance-related pay, and workers who go over the time limit could ultimately be dismissed.
“There is no pragmatism – we are looking for flexibility from the employer,” added Mr Middleman.
He expects protests to be held outside each of the call centres, and said staff trying to enter would be peacefully persuaded not to cross the picket line.
The union claims 70% of 7,000 JCP members in 37 call centres across the country voted for strike action although the DWP said three-quarters of staff across the centres did not vote to strike.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The contact centre staff at DWP have good terms of employment including generous holidays, and have a good amount of flexibility.
“But we have to ensure that our service is available when our customers, who include some of the most vulnerable people in the country, need us.
“We use performance measures to ensure that performance and productivity are high, and we deliver value for money for the taxpayer.”
The strike will be followed by a “no overtime” policy.