Up to 350 DWP staff working in 13 Benefit Centres are under the threat of compulsory redundancy. This is due to the closure of these sites. The management rationale is that we need fewer sites as increasingly claimants use alternative means to claim benefits such as over the phone and on line. The DWP wrote to PCS to inform them that ‘meaningful consultation’ will begin with the union on handling redundancies on 17th October. This is effectively issuing a 90 day notice of redundancy.
Voluntary exit schemes have been announced at all locations and in the local vicinity in an attempt to free up posts for those that wish to be re-deployed. Management have indicated that they are not confident that all job loss can be handled using voluntary schemes and re-deployment.
The DWP Group of PCS has written to management and instructed regional TUS secretaries not to engage with the employer as they consider that management have not followed the Cabinet Office protocols for handling surplus staff. Management have stated that, in their view, they have not breached the protocols and that the consultation will continue regardless.
The PCS line in the sand that was supposed to trigger national action was the threat of compulsory redundancies. Yet this is the latest in a long list of announcements. Of course now you get more money for volunteering for redundancy than if you were made redundant compulsorily. Why would you sit it out if you would get more money for volunteering, particularly if you thought the Union was not serious about campaigning against job loss?
This suits the government as they will be able to claim that all job loss was on a voluntary basis.
This highlights two issues. One is the inadequacy of the protocols. What is needed is a binding agreement with the Cabinet Office governing job loss. The second issue is that although departments are going through the process of meaningful consultation they are not legally obliged to as the Civil Service has Crown immunity from redundancy legislation. PCS needs to ensure that we are covered by the law, however inadequate that protection may be.
PCS could have used the jobs dispute issue to spark action across departments and in locations where jobs were going to fill in the gap between June 30th and November 30th. After all the national dispute is not just about pensions – it covers jobs and pay too.
And of course the whole membership of the Union should be used to defend even a single job loss, where that worker wants to continue to work. The maxim ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’ has never been more appropriate.