DWP staff strike over proposed Jobcentre closure

Written by Jim Dunton on 2 June 2017 in News
News

MPs and centre users back call to save one of 78 threatened offices

 

Staff protest outside Sheffield Eastern Avenue Jobcentre today Credit: PCS

Workers at one of 78 Jobcentres earmarked for closure by the Department for Work and Pensions have staged a one-day strike calling for a rethink of the proposals because of the impact on service users. 

Staff at Sheffield’s Eastern Avenue Jobcentre picketed the building as part of a protest that the PCS union said had the backing of centre users and local parliamentary candidates, including Labour’s shadow digital economy minister Louise Haigh.

The closure was announced in January as part of a wider package of estate rationalisation aimed at saving £180m a year over the next decade, through merging existing Jobcentres and opening new locations – tied to the ending of DWP’s 20-year PRIME contract, which provides it with fully-serviced accommodation.

Seventy staff are understood to be affected by the Sheffield office closure, however PCS said members were not striking to protect their own jobs, but to maintain the quality of services available to users.


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PCS said that while there were currently no actions planned at other Jobcentres and closure-threatened DWP offices, it was “very possible” the situation would change.

The DWP’s proposals for the city would see services currently provided by Eastern Avenue transferred to Sheffield Cavendish Court Jobcentre and Sheffield Bailey Court Jobcentre, which are 3 and 3.6 miles away respectively. 

Its plan would also see a “work coach” based in a yet-to-be specified community location, such as a library, to help local claimants find work.  

Haigh, who is seeking re-election as MP for Sheffield Heeley, dubbed the government’s decision to close the centre as “shameful” on her website, and hosts a petition to halt the move.

She said closing Eastern Avenue would “force those who use the job centre to fork out money they cannot afford to travel across town”.

DWP’s consultation said centre users would face a 25-minute journey to get to the new centres by public transport, and that it would take fewer than 15 minutes by car.

The PCS said it had been in negotiations with the DWP over the plans to shut Eastern Avenue, and was particularly concerned about the lack of an impact assessment on the move, but the department had refused to withdraw the proposals.

General secretary Mark Serwotka said the Eastern Avenue Jobcentre was in one of the most deprived parts of Sheffield and provided a vital service to the local community. 

“Closing the jobcentre would have a massive impact,” he said. “Our message is clear: listen to staff and the local community, stop the cuts and defend public services.”   

The union said staff at Eastern Avenue were planning to hold a five-day strike from June 12. It added that there were 49 union members at the Jobcentre making up approximately 85% of the DWP's staff.

PCS said it also had a number of members working as security guards for G4S and cleaners working for Engie on the site, but that they were not currently involved in the dispute.

Civil Service World contacted DWP for comment on the situation at Eastern Avenue, but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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