Department for Work and Pensions staff at Sheffield Eastern Avenue Jobcentre have launched a new wave of strike action that will run from today until the advice and benefits office closes next month.
It is the latest tranche of industrial action at the Jobcentre, which is one of around 80 earmarked for closure across the country as part of a DWP estates rationalisation programme timed to coincide with the end of its “PRIME” PFI estates contract with Telereal Trillium.
Members of the PCS union at the branch have been at the forefront of direct action against DWP's closure proposals, which aim to merge local services and consolidate back-office functions. In Sheffield's case, users of Eastern Avenue would transfer to the city’s Cavendish Court Jobcentre.
PCS said its members at Eastern Avenue would be on all-out strike until November 17, which was identified as the office’s closure date earlier this month.
No jobs are understood to be at risk among PCS staff at Eastern Avenue. However, they argue that their jobcentre is in one of the most deprived parts of Sheffield and provides a vital service to the local community that should not be relocated, and say plans to move Eastern Avenue staff to another office remain incomplete.
Labour MP Louise Haigh, whose Sheffield Heely constituency includes Eastern Avenue, has campaigned to keep the Jobcentre open, citing excessive travel times for claimants and fears over overcrowding at Cavendish Court.
PCS said plans to move staff to the other office were not ready, health and safety reports had not begun, and essential accommodation work was not expected to be done on time.
“In addition, promises from senior DWP management that outreach sites will be in place before the closure have not been fulfilled,” the union said.
“In fact district management are suggesting that staff should tell claimants the office is closing and ask them what outreach facilities they would like.”
In July, DWP said it expected that around 750 job losses would result from the rationalisation programme, which aims to save around £140m a year over the next decade.
Work and pensions secretary David Gauke told MPs the majority of the axed roles would be back-office staff.