Tag Archives: PCS Conference

Boycott Workfare Go To Brighton To Smash Benefit Sanctions

sanction-sabsBoycott Workfare joined the Civil Service Rank and File Network (CSRF) and Brighton Benefits Campaign in Brighton yesterday to lobby the PCS Union to take meaningful action on the brutal benefit sanctions currently driving hundreds of thousands of people into unbearable poverty.

The rally was called outside the annual PCS Conference, with claimants, disabled people and public sector workers joining forces to resist the endless attacks on the welfare state that PCS members are being expected to administer.

Shortly after the rally began, disabled protesters from DAN Cymru arrived with an impressive banner and launched into an impromptu direct action, blocking the busy road along the sea front.  They were soon joined by folk from Boycott Workfare and several PCS members for a noisy and angry demonstration which drew a small police response.  One lane was eventually opened to allow some traffic to pass through and the blockade stayed in place for almost an hour whilst PCS conference delegates mingled outside.

When Universal Credit is finally launched, Jobcentre staff themselves, along with many other part-time public sector workers, will face the same regime as unemployed claimants.  Sadly two motions calling for some form of workplace action against these measures were removed from the PCS Conference agenda.  An emergency motion brought before the conference yesterday to discuss sanctions was also not discussed.  The PCS leadership has dismissed calls for any form of real action to defeat benefit sanctions.

The same PCS leadership were conspicuous by their absence as the drama unfurled outside their conference yesterday, but it was reassuring to see some PCS members take to the road and support claimants and disabled people.  This, along with the efforts of the CSRF in organising the lobby, shows that amongst the rank and file at least of the PCS, there is support for practical action to support unemployed or disabled people and low paid workers.

The day also saw the first appearance of the mysterious Sanction Sabs (pictured above), follow them on twitter @SanctionSabs

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Demand Action On Benefit Sanctions at the PCS Conference

action-pcs-welfareThe Civil Service Rank and File Network have called a rally outside the PCS conference this week to demand action from the union on the vicious benefit sanctioning regime.

Benefit sanctions are set to become a huge issue for public sector workers when Universal Credit is fully introduced. Under the new rules even part-time workers will be expected to continually look for ‘more or better paid work’ or face in-work benefits being stopped. This will lead to Jobcentre workers being expected to police and sanction their colleagues, along with other low paid DWP workers.

It is clear how this toxic regime will not just place intolerable pressure on working relations at the DWP, but also could be used to undermine future industrial action.  DWP management will be given unprecedented power over the lives of part-time public sector workers, including the option to send people on workfare during the hours they are not in paid employment.

This is not scare-mongering. 85,000 benefit sanctions were imposed on claimants in just January of this year. Jobcentre workers who do not sanction enough claims are placed under Performance Improvement Plans. PCS members right now are being disciplined for not meeting targets to sanction benefit claims – yet DWP ministers have denied that these targets even exist.

When Universal Credit is launched PCS members at the DWP will not just have the power to sanction their lowest paid colleagues, they will face disciplinary action if they don’t do it often enough.

Astonishingly the PCS leadership have said that this sanctioning regime is not a workplace issue. Two motions calling for urgent  debate on how to take meaningful action against these measures  – and Universal Credit will begin to be rolled out nationally from October this year – have been removed from the PCS Conference agenda.

Claimants have long called for action not words from the PCS to help bring about an end to benefit sanctions. There is no doubting the sincerity of the PCS in their support of claimants and low paid workers, but leaflets and strongly worded statements are no longer enough, if they ever were.

Benefit sanctions mean child poverty, ill health and even in some cases homelessness. Lives can be shattered by decisions Jobcentre workers are forced to take under threat of losing their jobs if they refuse. Very soon some of those having their lives ripped apart by DWP created poverty will be low paid public sector workers. Only collective action from the PCS, along with active support from claimants and low paid members of other unions, will bring this regime to an end.

If the PCS leadership will not let a discussion take place inside the conference on how to fight these devastating attacks on those both in and out of work, then that conversation will have to take place in the street.  Join the lobby, supported by claimant groups including Boycott Workfare and Disabled People Against Cuts, outside the PCS Conference in Brighton on Tuesday 21st May.

Tuesday 21 May, 12.30-14.00
The Brighton Centre, King’s Rd, Brighton, BN1 2GR
Bring flags and banners

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/258534454291849/

Universal Credit and Benefit Sanctions, What Every PCS Member Urgently Needs To Know

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Universal Credit and Benefit Sanctions, What Every PCS Member Urgently Needs To Know

welfare-reform-bannerUniversal Credit may have been launched with a whimper – at just one Jobcentre affecting a handful of claimants – but unless urgent action is taken then it will prove devastating for low paid workers at the DWP, HMRC and elsewhere within both the public and private sectors.

Universal Credit is not just an attack on unemployed, sick or disabled people, but everyone dependent on some form of support, such as Tax Credits or Housing Benefits.  Part time workers earning less than the minimum wage for a full week’s work will be placed under the same ‘conditionality’ regime for in-work benefits as those currently claiming Jobseekers Allowance.  This is intended to to ‘incentivise’ low paid workers to continuously look for ‘more or better paid work’.

This conditionality, known as Work Related Activity, will at the minimum include regular interviews at the Jobcentre.  Astonishingly, a part time Jobcentre worker (or any other low paid PCS member) could leave work in the morning only to have to re-attend the Jobcentre in the afternoon for an unpaid back-to-work style interview.

At this interview, which will be carried out by a colleague in the case of Jobcentre staff, part time workers will be interrogated on what they are doing to find full time work.  Anyone who refuses to, or is unable to carry out mandated Work Related Activity – which could mean anything from workfare in the hours they aren’t in paid work to filling out dodgy personality tests – will face having in-work benefits sanctioned.  In some cases sanctions can last up to three years.

The PCS Union have estimated that up to 40% of their lowest paid members could be brought under this regime,  all watched over and policed by fellow PCS members.  This is clearly an intolerable situation with the potential to create a poisonous working environment for Jobcentre staff along with bitter disputes across the trade union movement.

For Jobcentre workers the problems do not end there.  It is no secret that some unemployed claimants, placed under relentless pressure – benefit sanctions mean kids going hungry – may take out their frustrations on Jobcentre staff.  It is also true, for somewhat obvious reasons, that people with a history of violent behaviour often find themselves on benefits.  Attacks on Jobcentre staff have tripled in some areas over the last year. 

The PCS Union have acknowledged that the enhanced sanctions regime increases the risk of Jobcentre workers facing violence, yet the DWP appear to be brushing off this very real threat to the health and safety of public sector workers.

It is not just low paid workers at risk of harm due to the new regime.  Jobcentre workers are not trained to be health assessors, social workers, probation officers or substance misuse specialists, yet they now have unprecedented power over claimant’s lives.  Child Protection measures, care plans, support for people recovering from addiction or vital work to house homeless people can now all be interrupted by Jobcentre demands that claimants attend workfare or face having benefits stopped.

Jobcentre workers may be completely unaware of factors from a claimant’s personal life, whether that be a health condition or a criminal record which makes a workfare placement unsuitable. Claimants on sickness or disability benefits can now also be sent on workfare.  No health and safety assessments are carried out into placement providers and there have even been concerns raised about whether workfare staff are always adequately insured.  In most cases no CRB checks are carried out.

A tragedy is almost inevitable and when it happens it is quite likely to be a front line worker scape-goated by management, the media or government ministers.  Jobcentre workers are not paid anything like enough to shoulder this level of responsibility.

Even events which don’t make the headlines should be enough to make all Jobcentre staff pause for thought.  Jobcentre managers have long warned of the increased risk of suicide amongst benefit claimants.  Even without the shocking attacks on the working conditions and safety of Jobcentre staff, there is a moral dimension to benefit sanctions that can no longer be swept under the carpet.

Jobcentre workers did not sign up to act as Iain Duncan Smith’s unofficial police force, yet they now have greater powers in some cases than magistrates to sentence people to unpaid work.  Benefit sanctions are comparable to a heavy fine just for missing a meeting or misunderstanding a letter.  The end results of these sanctions are child poverty, homelessness and debt.  No worker should be compelled to force other working class people – who have committed no crime other than being sick , disabled, parents, unemployed or even under-employed  – into absolute destitution.

The recent leaks which exposed benefit sanction league tables shows just how far DWP management are prepared to go to enforce this callous regime.  The fact that ministers have denied the existence of targets to sanction claimants represents yet another attack on frontline staff.  Jobcentre workers are now being disciplined for not meeting targets that the Government claim do not exist.

When all low paid part time workers face Work Related Activity,  both colleagues and trade union comrades alike will be under pressure by management to sanction each other’s in-work benefits.

The introduction of Universal Credit is a matter of urgency for all low paid or part time workers.  Sanctions are the teeth of the new measures, and must be fought in workplaces and on the streets if necessary.  Two motions had been tabled at the PCS Conference in May this year to discuss some form of industrial action to resist sanctions, a long held demand of claimants and many rank and file PCS members.

These motions will now not be discussed after the PCS  Standing Orders Committee removed them from the conference agenda.  The union’s National Executive Committee seem to have washed their hands of this decision and claimed they were not responsible.  The thinking amongst the PCS leadership seems to be that benefit sanctions are not a workplace issue for members, or at least are not yet.  In truth sanctions have already created a toxic and brutalised regime at the DWP and the situation is set to become far worse.

Universal Credit has been fully enshrined in legislation.  Whilst the timetable for full implementation is unclear, the roll out is likely to be hugely extended from October this year.  The time to fight is now.  Only action, not words, can stop this attack on the UK’s poorest workers.  Low paid workers from other sectors, along with all claimants whether out of work or not,  should stand firmly behind rank and file PCS members lobbying the leadership, and more importantly the membership, for meaningful action.  Only then can we act collectively to stop the all out war on the very poorest that Jobcentre workers are to be expected to wage on behalf of this Government.

The Civil Service Rank & File (CSRF) Network has called a rally outside of the PCS union’s Annual Delegate Conference at lunchtime on Tuesday 21 May, urging delegates to support a position of non-cooperation with sanctions against welfare claimants.  They will be joined by claimants.  For more details, and to help spread the word visit: https://www.facebook.com/events/258534454291849/

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PCS Union Leadership Refuse To Even Discuss Fighting Benefit Sanctions

pcs-disputeIn a disappointing and sadly all too predictable move, the leadership of the PCS Union have blocked any meaningful discussion about fighting the ruthless benefit sanction regime which many of their members are now expected to administer and police.

Under draconian new rules claimants can have benefits stopped for up to three years for failing to carry out the endless requirements imposed on them by Jobcentres.  Sick and disabled claimants can be sent on unlimited, unpaid work as part of the Work Programme, whilst single parents can also see benefits docked or even stopped completely.

The misery and poverty this regime has already created is without recent precedent in the UK and in truth has barely even begun.  Despite ever more desperate spin from DWP ministers, these changes certainly haven’t helped anyone find a job and serve merely to punish claimants for being unemployed, disabled or unwell.

Claimant groups have long called on the PCS for action, not words, in their supposed support of benefit claimants.  The union has been told, time and time again, of the all too real suffering that is being created in people’s lives due to benefit sanctions.  Every plea for action has come with a full and realistic acknowledgement of what the PCS can legally and legitimately do to support claimants, along with calls for solidarity between claimants and low paid Jobcentre staff.

Many rank and file members of the union have been all too aware of the suffering which is being inflicted on the poorest and often most marginalised people in the UK.  PCS workers have  marched, fought and taken direct action alongside claimants to fight the shambolic and callous welfare reforms.  Two motions on how the PCS as a whole could now solidify that support had been proposed at the union’s annual conference in Brighton on 20 May this year.

The motions have been excluded from the conference by the PCS leadership on the grounds that if successfully implemented they could leave the union liable to legal action.  One of these motions calls for complete non-co-operation with the sanctions, which could be interpreted as a call for industrial action beyond the specifics of the law.  The other motion however only calls to include the tactic of non-cooperation in “any industrial action campaign”.  Not even this can be up for debate according to the leadership of the PCS.

This is despite the fact that sanctions are soon to be very much an industrial issue for the union and therefore almost certainly could be the target of legal industrial action (as has been admitted at senior level within the union).  When Universal Credit is finally rolled out as many as 30% of DWP staff will be brought under the sanctions regime themselves.  New measures to force those working part time to continually look for better paid jobs or longer hours could lead to Jobcentre staff having to sanction each other’s in-work benefits.  It is hard to imagine a more toxic introduction to the workplace then staff being required to grass each other up because they didn’t apply for enough jobs to work somewhere else that week.

It will not just be DWP staff affected by the new rules, but part time workers across the PCS Union’s membership – along with millions of members of other trade unions.  This is an issue which could rip the PCS Union apart unless action is taken, yet the leadership want to sweep any debate under the carpet.

Claimants and public sector workers alike should now lobby at all levels to demand the PCS take the nightmare of benefit sanctions seriously.  For many claimants it is already too late.  The tragic lack of real action so far begs the question at what point will the PCS leadership say enough is enough?  Just how much are they prepared to allow unemployed and disabled people be abused before they decide to act and say not in our name?

Most decent people might have assumed that forced work for sick and disabled claimants would have been the point at which the union made a stand.  But it seems that not even this regime being inflicted on their own members is enough to allow it to be discussed at their annual conference.

The Civil Service Rank and File Network are discussing holding  a rally outside the PCS Conference and have said that if the if the PCS leadership continue to refuse to act then claimants and others should help enforce an unofficial rank-and-file boycott of sanctions.

The PCS Union are on facebook and twitter @pcs_union. Contact them if you want them to reverse this decision and allow the motions to be presented.

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