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Jobcentre strike support 'massive'


Unemployment could rise in Northern Ireland

Unemployment could rise in Northern Ireland

Unemployment could rise in Northern Ireland

A strike by thousands of Jobcentre Plus staff in an escalating row over working conditions and claims of a "target-driven culture" was said to be solidly supported.

The Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) said picket lines were mounted outside more than 30 call centres across the country where staff walked out for 24 hours.

The union said the workers, many of whom had never taken industrial action before, were receiving "massive" support from members of the public.

Callers to the centres were being told to ring back on Tuesday when the strike was over, said the union.

The action follows a two-day strike in January by more than 2,000 workers in Jobcentre Plus's seven newest contact centres, who complain of being forcibly moved from processing benefit claims to handling inquiries by phone.

The union said it wants to improve the levels of customer service in call centres, end a target-driven culture, particularly by changing the way "unrealistic" average call times are used, and introduce proper flexible working arrangements.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "The workers involved in this dispute are some of the lowest paid in the Civil Service who are being forced to take action to improve the service they provide to some of the most vulnerable people in society, in the face of unacceptable working conditions and an obsession with computer-driven targets.

"The truth is, staff are monitored every minute of the day. The computer dictates start and finish times and tells them when to go for a break, with staff hauled up if they are 40 seconds late back or go over the time allowed for a call. Toilet breaks are monitored and constantly questioned."

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: "We are disappointed that, despite three-quarters of staff across the centres having not voted to go on strike, the PCS have decided to take industrial action.

"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."

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