DWP Contact Centre Dispute

 

The word in the corridors and tea rooms of the DWP’s Contact Centres is that the union’s Group Executive Committee has been myrtled.

This previously unknown phenomenon seems to involve being persuaded that a series of clarifications, and promises to be nicer in future, by a senior DWP manager (in this case Myrtle Lloyd) constitutes an acceptable end to a long-running dispute over working conditions.

The Contact Centre dispute is at a critical stage. Following a strike on 13 August and subsequent talks with management, the DWP GEC announced that it had reached an agreement which it would be recommending to members to end the dispute. Ballot papers are being sent to members now.

It made this announcement before it published any details of the proposed settlement and before it had consulted the CC reps who had previously been central to directing the dispute.

The intention was clearly to steamroller any opposition and close the dispute down. When a CC reps meeting was eventually held, Group President Fran Heathcote made it plain that she felt it had dragged on too long already. She did not allow a vote on the proposals to be held at the meeting.

When the GEC debated the subject, one of the minority who voted against recommending the offer was so angry at his treatment by the GEC’s leading lights that he resigned and wrote the letter published here. It does not paint a picture of a body at ease with democratic discussion.

And what of the proposals themselves? They contain very little in the way of solid improvements on the ‘interim agreement’ that was reached with the previous management team.

They are full of platitudes and promises to reiterate and clarify problem areas. But disputes are not settled by expressions of good faith in management’s intentions (especially given the history of relations in Contact Centres). They are settled by concrete agreements to improve things.

We need to vote ‘No’ in the ballot and if we succeed in overturning the GEC’s recommendation, the union needs to reconvene a CC reps meeting at the earliest opportunity in order to forge a strategy to achieve the aims set out at the beginning of this dispute. Our members working in the Contact Centres can remember what these are, even if the GEC seems to have forgotten.

A PCS DWP activist

The Letter:

To: Fran Heathcote

PCS DWP group president

20 September 2012

Fran

At Tuesday’s GEC meeting I explained why I thought the offer to members in contact centre services was not a sufficient improvement to look to settle the dispute. I explained what I thought management would need to give members on the different aspects of the dispute if they were serious about settling and that I thought further negotiations and action could get much more for members.

John McInally, Janice Godrich and you clearly had no intention of considering the serious concerns I was raising to defend members in contact centres, preferring to attempt to stamp down and bully me and the other two GEC members who dared to disagree.

I cannot serve on a group executive committee which has a culture of viciously and personally attacking those who seek to represent the members who elected them when their conclusions aren’t in line with the socialist party position.

I resign as group journal editor with immediate effect. I urge you to consider that to best represent members the group executive committee needs to encourage genuine debate not silence it.

Alan Smith

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