Department for Work and Pensions staff are to stage a two-day strike in protest at “intolerable workloads” and “insufficient recruitment” connected with the administration of controversial new benefit Universal Credit.
The action follows a ballot of staff working at Universal Credit centres in Walsall and Wolverhampton, where more than 90% of the 274 PCS members balloted voted to walk out.
It is the second stoppage in an ongoing dispute with management that has seen the civil service’s biggest union demanding the recruitment of more staff, permanent contracts for fixed-term staff and a decrease in workloads. Two days of strike action were held by workers at the West Midlands centres in March.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said frustration and exasperation among staff administering the six-into-one benefit, originally created by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, came as evidence mounted that claimants were being left in poverty by Universal Credit’s rollout.
“Instead of trying to solve this ongoing dispute over workloads and recruitment, ministers are spending thousands on a propaganda campaign to promote a failed Universal Credit system,” he said.
“It is shameful that the minds of minsters are not focused on claimants or staff but instead on covering up for their own abject failures.
“This strike will send a message that we as a union will not stand idly by while our members are treated with contempt and ministers run Universal Credit into the ground.”
Nationally, PCS is calling for 5,000 new staff, permanency for fixed-term staff and a limit to the number of phone calls each Universal Credit case manager has to deal with.
It also wants a limit to the size of DWP’s national telephony hub and better consultation with the union over changes to the existing office network.
A DWP spokesperson said the the department was “disappointed” that the PCS members in Walsall and Wolverhampton had decided to take strike action.
“Planned meetings with the union are ongoing and our priority is ensuring there is no disruption to our customers,” they said.
“Our frontline staff deliver vital support to around 20m people across the country and we are committed to supporting them in their roles, including by monitoring staff levels and making sure their caseloads are manageable.”
The walkout at the Walsall and Wolverhampton Universal Credit centres is due to take place on May 28 and 29.