From education to employment

Discontent in Public Sector Workforce Spreads as 90,000 DWP Staff Walk Out on Strike

The bubble seems to have well and truly burst for the Government as up to 90,000 workers for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are staging a second two day strike.

The two day strike by members of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) will see staff from Jobcentres, benefit offices, pension centres and the Child Support Agency (CSA) across England, Scotland and Wales strike in protest at the falling service levels and job cuts already enacted and threatened.

Striking Action

This is not the first time that strike action has hit the public sector in the past few days. Indeed, it has only been a single long weekend since PCS members at the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) also walked out for a day’s strike action. This action saw more than 2,000 LSC employees go on strike in protest at the proposed job cuts at the LSC, with some 1,100 positions slashed in a bid to remove the implication of “over bureaucratic management” from the Council.

The PCS feared for the quality of the delivery of Adult Education courses and vocational training in the case of the LSC, and objected to the nature of the re ““ appraisal process with staff forced to re ““ apply for their own positions and take IQ and psychometric evaluations. That strike will pale in comparison to the two day strike by DWP employees, which is expected to reach an almost six ““ figure turnout.

Just the Beginning?

The striking workers are undoubtedly concerned, and may have good reason for their fears. Talks have broken down with senior management over the job cuts and the PCS argue that management have also failed to accept the effect that the job cuts have had on service provision. The PCS point to the findings of three separate House of Commons select committee reports, highlighting the failures in service provision, some 21 million calls going unanswered and the paucity of trained staff for the work at hand.

The DWP are aiming towards a target of slashing 30,000 jobs by 2008, and the General Secretary of the PCS, Mark Serwotka, sees this as a damaging future for the nation as a whole and for the work of the DWP. He said: “The failure by the DWP to fully appreciate the damaging impact of job cuts in talks with the union means that our members are left having to strike to defend the services they care about.

“With a number of House of Commons select committees identifying problems in the department,” he continued, “senior management can no longer continue to plough on regardless in cutting jobs. Rather continually being in denial saying everything is fine, the department need to halt the job cuts programme and jointly assess with PCS the adequate staffing levels needed.”

It would seem that the conflict will continue, and the prospects for a mutually satisfactory solution seem remote. Government is committed to driving down levels of staffing in the Public Sector; and undoubtedly believe that a streamlined but efficient public sector will prove popular with the voters. Worryingly, however, it would seem that the efficiency of the DWP has been affected, and before any further cutbacks take place the Government must surely rectify any deficits in the service provided.

Jethro Marsh

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