The Public and Commercial Services trade union has announced it is to ballot Department for Work and Pensions staff working at two Universal Credit service centres for strike action due to unmanageable workloads for the welfare reform.
The ballot could lead to two days of strike action next month at the Wolverhampton and Walsall service centres, with up to 295 staff being balloted for both strike action and action short of a strike.
The union said that the rollout of the government’s flagship welfare reform, which will merge six existing working-age benefits into one payment, has made some DWP staff's workloads unmanageable.
PCS has made five demands of DWP to ease the pressure. These include hiring 5,000 new staff nationwide and permanent contracts for fixed term staff to increase capacity as more people transition onto the new benefit system. It also wants the department to limit the number of phone calls per case manager, commit to service centres rather than contact centres, improve staff consultation, and a implement quality-focused working environment, with an end to management by statistics.
The union's general secretary, Mark Serwotka, said: “The possibility of a strike by Universal Credit staff should serve as a wake up call to ministers who have repeatedly insisted Universal Credit is working well for workers and claimants when the opposite is in fact the case.
“Our members have not taken the decision to ballot lightly but the responsibility for the breakdown in industrial relations lies squarely with the government, who want to run this service into the ground while treating staff with contempt.”
The ballot will close on 25 February.
Responding to the announcement, a DWP spokesperson said the department was determined to give all employees, including those delivering Universal Credit, the necessary resources to carry out their roles successfully, including manageable workloads.
The size of a case manager’s workload depends on a number of factors, including their experience and the complexity of the caseload, they added.
“We are disappointed that PCS has chosen to take this course of action and planned meetings with the union are ongoing,” the spokesperson said.
“Our top priority remains assessing and making payments to customers. We are comfortable with current staffing levels and will monitor and reallocate resource where necessary.”