Tag Archives: PCS

Week Of Action Down the Jobcentre Starts August 5th

jobcentre-queueThe Civil Service Rank & File Network  (CSRF) has called for action aimed at Jobcentre Plus in the week beginning the 5 August.

“In the week commencing 5 August we encourage civil servants to work with claimants and others who oppose austerity in your area.

• Hold workplace meetings to discuss the type of action needed to win.
• Stage pickets outside of the Jobcentre to bring workers and claimants together in opposition to the government.
• Occupy the Jobcentre and bring business to a halt for as long as you practically can.

The action taken by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty against Leith Jobcentre is a brilliant example of the kind of protest we are advocating.

CSRF is a network for civil servants who want to resist the government’s attacks on our terms and conditions. With PCS where they put up a fight, without them where they won’t!”

More details on their website at: http://csrfnetwork.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/jobcentre-plus-week-of-action-5-9-august/

Facebook event at: https://www.facebook.com/events/413358982115310/

Please spread the word.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

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/

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Jobcentre Illegally Sacked Thousands of Workers

employment-appealIn yet another humiliating court defeat for Iain Duncan Smith, thousands of sacked Jobcentre staff may be entitled to compensation due to an employment tribunal ruling that they were unlawfully sacked.

Thousands of Jobcentre staff were employed on fixed term contracts in 2009 to deal with soaring unemployment due to the recession.  Many of them were then sacked to meet spending targets shortly after this Government weren’t elected.

In a move which demonstrates their utter contempt for both the rule of law and their own workforce, bungling DWP bosses had attempted to avoid paying these workers redundancy payments when they were laid off.

Two former Jobcentre staff, supported by PCS Union,  took the department to an employment tribunal, which ruled they should have been legally paid redundancy.  Thousands of workers sacked by Iain Duncan Smith could now be entitled to claim compensation which is likely to cost up to £1 million.

If Jobcentre bosses can’t even get sacking people right, then what hope is there for people needing help to find a job?

It remains to be seen whether the Secretary of State will attempt to retrospectively change the law – with the craven support of the spineless Labour Party – to avoid the repayments.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Universal Jobmatch Not Mandatory PCS Confirms

universallymismatchedUPDATE 27/2/13:  Registering an account with Universal Jobmatch will  become mandatory from the beginning of March 2013.  There should still be no requirement to tick the box giving DWP access to your account.  For the latest details and what this means for claimants keep an eye on:  http://consent.me.uk/2013/02/26/mandatory/

Whilst Iain Duncan Smith and the DWP have continually muddied the waters, it has been down to the PCS Union to publish comprehensive guidance on the current policies relating to Universal Jobmatch.

Ever since the new job seeking website was launched confusion has reigned over whether unemployed people could be forced to sign up to the site under threat of benefit sanctions.    Iain Duncan Smith claimed before Christmas that signing up to the scam and spam plagued website would become mandatory in the New Year.  According to the guidance published by the PCS, and countless anecdotal stories from around the UK, some DWP managers had decided it was mandatory already.

Thanks to some dogged work from @refuted – who has kept a cool head throughout the shambles – along with the welcome information from the PCS, the situation is now clear.

(this may change of course, but this is the current policy)

It is not mandatory to sign up to Universal Jobmatch.

Jobseekers Directions cannot be issued if a claimant refuses to sign up to the website.

It is not mandatory for claimants to tick the box giving the DWP access to their accounts.

The crucial  paragraph from the PCS, which can be easily copied and handed out (or even stuck up places), states:

Jobseeker Directions and Mandatory Use of UJ

PCS was aware that, despite assurances otherwise from the UJ project of DWP, management in some jobcentre districts were instructing advisers to tell claimants that UJ is mandatory and access must given to the DWP.

As a result of legal challenges and negative press attention, DWP have revised the guidance on UJ to make it clear that this cannot be done. The UJ Jobmatch toolkit chapter 3, paragraph 50, states: “You cannot issue a Jobseeker’s Direction to either require a claimant to create a profile and CV in Universal Jobmatch or to mandate a claimant to give us access to their account – this is their decision not ours.” Paragraph 52 also states that “We cannot specify to a JSA claimant how they provide us with records of their jobsearch activity and Universal Jobmatch will not change this.”

PCS is awaiting clarification from DWP management on the status of the many Jobseeker Directions that were incorrectly issued to claimants before the guidance was clarified. PCS members should contact their local representative to challenge any instruction to inform claimants that the use of UJ or access to it is mandatory.”

Everyone claimant need to know this, please spread the word, full info from the PCS at: http://www.pcs.org.uk/en/department_for_work_and_pensions_group/dwp-news.cfm/id/78E359C6-7B09-4FC6-98EBD4696432C199

A new website has been produced by Solidarity Federation with more details on Universal Jobmatch at: http://universaljobmatch.eu/

The above pic is from a blog by an online recruitment specialist who points out what a huge waste of money the farce has been: http://ayeright.com/2013/01/universal-jobmatch-worst-job-board-launch-ever/

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Benefit Sanctions Treble In Just Two Years – And There’s Far Worse To Come

The number of benefit sanctions handed out to unemployed people has risen to over half a million a year during the toff Government’s first full year in office.

Figures obtained by Corporate Watch show that 508,000 benefit sanctions were handed out in 2011, a shocking rise from the 139,000 sanctions imposed in 2009.

Sanctions, which mean benefit payments being stopped or reduced, can currently be handed out for periods between 2 weeks and six months in length. Sanctions can be handed out because an advisor decides that a claimant has not met the terms of their ‘Job Seekers Agreement’, has failed to attend an interview or meeting with the Jobcentre, has not attended workfare, or for virtually anything else a Jobcentre advisor or manager dreams up.  In practice sanctions are handed out like confetti on a completely arbitrary basis.  Claimants have reported being sanctioned because their advisor took a dislike to them,  or for trivial, technical breaches of ‘jobseeker’s directions’ – the actions that advisors can demand a claimant take to try and find work.  Last year The Guardian ran a story claiming Jobcentre staff were encouraged to ‘trick’ people off benefits and which featured a DWP whistle blower who said: “I’ve seen dyslexic customers given written job searches, and when they don’t produce them – what a surprise – they’re sanctioned. “

Whilst ministers have repeatedly lied that advisors are not set targets to sanction a certain number of claimants, recent guidelines from public sector union the PCS suggests that this is still common practice.  The PCS warn their members at the DWP:

“Recently, it has come to the attention of PCS that many members in Jobcentres have again been set targets for DMA referrals. These have appeared in members’ Key Work Objectives, clearly set out as benchmarks or expectations that members hit numerical targets for DMA referrals within a set period of time. “

(A DMA referral means a Decision Maker and Appeals referral, which is the action taken when a Jobcentre advisor seeks to sanction a claimant)

With the DWP facing massive job losses, the pressure on advisors to inflict sanctions must be immense.  It is a sad fact that under this pressure, some Jobcentre staff may target the most vulnerable.  This could include people with diagnosed, or undiagnosed mental health problems, those with low literacy skills or English as a second language. It is very likely that people who are deemed unable to fight back are the most likely face punitive sanctions.

Welfare to work companies can also impose sanctions and over 100,000 claimants were sanctioned in the last six months of last year due to private sector poverty pimps like A4e.  It appears that these profit hungry sharks are even more intent on forcing claimants into poverty than the DWP, with far more referrals for sanctions sent to the department than were granted.  With the very same companies failing dismally at getting people into work, it appears they are reduced to little more than two bit snitches, paid hundreds of millions to harass and sanction benefit claimants and little else.

10,000 sanctions were also handed out to those on sickness or disability benefits last year.  This figure is almost certain to soar as more and more sick and disabled people are referred onto the mandatory Work Programme.  To the utter shame of the so called ‘Third Sector’, many of these claimants will be sanctioned by the disability, homelessness, substance misuse or anti-poverty charities who have signed up to lucrative Work Programme sub-contracts.

In news which will terrify most claimants, Universal Credit, the new benefit regime which begins being trialled next year, will feature far more punitive sanctions than even now.  The minimum sanction for most ‘offences’ will be increased from one week to 13 weeks, whilst the maximum length of sanction is to be extended to three years.  Those in receipt of sickness and disability benefit, Employment Support Allowance, will face an unprecedented regime of enforced job seeking, similar to that currently faced by Job Seekers Allowance Claimants.  And perhaps most brutally of all, those with children over the age of 5 will be subject to the same sanctions and conditionality as those with no children at all.

If the current culture within Welfare to Work companies and the DWP continues than hundreds of thousands of parents could find themselves stripped of benefits and unable to adequately feed, clothe and house their children.  Child poverty, the like of which have not been witnessed in this country for over 100 years, could well be the result of Iain Duncan Smith’s endless zeal in making the very poorest pay for the crisis caused by the rich.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Workfare Slavery Infects the Public Sector

News comes from Ipswich Unemployed Action that workfare slaves are now being recruited to work in Jobcentres.  Not content with forcing unemployed people to stack shelves in Tesco all night for no pay, it seems that the DWP no longer want to pay their own staff either.

Three vacancies have been identified so far, all for jobs in admin positions of up to 30 hours a week with no pay.  This might come as a shock to DWP staff, many (if not most) of whom are threatened with redundancy.

Of course the real question is whether this comes as a shock to Public Sector Worker’s union, the PCS. It looks an awful lot like public sector workers risk being laid off in favour of workfare staff, a perfect hit for this government, attacking benefit claimants, public sector workers and saving money all at the same time.  It’s the kind of thing you might expect a union to be somewhat narked about.

The TUC have declared opposition to workfare even if some unions don’t seem to have quite caught up.  Billy Hayes, head of posties’ union the CWU, has said on twitter that the union’s apparent support for workfare is under investigation and that he does not support it.  We await the results of his investigation, but you can chivvy him along at: https://twitter.com/BillyHayes_CWU

The PCS, who it must be said have been by far the most supportive union  towards claimants, and are doing a fine job standing firm in the dispute over pensions, are in a difficult position.  After all it is current Jobcentre staff, many of whom are likely to be members, who currently refer people onto workfare schemes.  This is something that should have been resisted a long time ago.

But that doesn’t mean it can be swept under the carpet, the stakes are now far too high.  If the PCS take further strike action over pensions, which looks likely, will workfare staff be forced to scab or face losing benefits?  Could workfare be used as an attempt to break any further strike action by the PCS?

Of course this sounds like hyperbole, scare-mongering even.  But then last year I wrote that the new benefit changes, under some circumstances, could lead to “cancer patients, forced to do physical work and not being given enough money for food.”  This was supposed to represent a worst case scenario.  As it happens, according to the Guardian, this could now become government policy.

So will the PCS be resisting this exploitation of unemployed workers being forced to work alongside their members for no pay?  The PCS are on twitter at: https://twitter.com/#!/pcs_union.

Perhaps it’s time to ask them.

In the meantime PCS members should be warmly welcomed by claimants  should they attend an event as part of the National Day of Action Against Workfare on March 3rd.  And claimants should, and will, continue to support the PCS in their battle over pensions.  We are all in this together after all.

There’s an inevitable petition up opposing workfare at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29356