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28 April 2021

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PCS ballots members in Jobcentres over safety

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)

Jobcentre Plus, photo Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons)   (Click to enlarge)

Socialist Party members in PCS

It is evident that the government is driving ahead to reopen Jobcentres to the public with reckless haste. Ministers are clearly linking public access to Jobcentres with the return to conditionality and sanctions in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which had been suspended during the height of the pandemic. So as soon as Johnson's roadmap indicated that non-essential shops could open from 12 April there was pressure to restart face-to-face appointments in the Jobcentres.

The number of Covid-19 outbreaks in DWP offices reduced dramatically when, finally, every member of staff was offered the opportunity and the IT kit to work from home, and the majority of staff finally left the offices. It is reckless to bring PCS members back into the workplace, as well as expect the public to travel to appointments, when Covid-19 is still present in our communities.

This has the potential to needlessly spread the virus for work that can be done effectively over the phone, with both PCS members and the public remaining safely at home. This exposes that the rush to fully open the Jobcentres is not about services to the public but how the government wants to return to the normal DWP regime, rather than focusing on paying benefits and supporting people.

The PCS DWP group executive committee has decided to run a consultative ballot over safety from 5 May to oppose the ramping up of face-to-face interviews in Jobcentres, with the focus on individually contacting and emailing members rather than working through our branches.

Broad Left Network members will work flat out to get a 'yes' vote in the ballot while recognising the limitations in the way the group leadership is running the campaign. We have been clear that building up the collective resistance across our branches and members is critical to this campaign. While advice has been issued to members about their health and safety rights, it again leaves members isolated to fight the battles themselves.

What is clear is that there needs to be pressure built up across all the Jobcentres uniting members together. Management may think they can pick on the most vulnerable members health-wise or contract-wise to staff the work.

The best response to this is to organise members together in each workplace to stop individuals being picked off and to tackle safety concerns. Broad Left Network members have been working hard to build the campaign for safety and help branches organise members' meetings. We see the following demands as the best way of mobilising members together:

PCS DWP group elections start on 29 April. As well as voting for Marion Lloyd for PCS national president and all the Broad Left Network candidates in the national executive council elections we are calling on PCS members in DWP to also vote for Broad Left Network-supported candidates in the DWP group elections:

PCS ballot - vote Broad Left Network

PCS members are voting in elections for the union's president and national executive committee. It is a postal ballot which closes 13 May. PCS is the union for government workers in the civil service and public and private sectors.

The PCS left rank-and-file group, the Broad Left Network, is standing Socialist Party member Marion Lloyd for president and candidates for vice-presidents and the national executive committee.

The Broad Left Network was formed by socialists to replace the current ineffective union leadership, and has challenged their defeatist approach to the key issues facing the union. These include pay, with no fight back against government attacks, and Covid-19, where, for the most part, a fightback has been left to individual members, and any collective action has been too little and too late. The BLN alternative on these and other issues and the slate for the PCS elections can be found at pcsbln.wordpress.com

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