Benefits staff strike over safety screens

A two-day strike by Benefits Agency staff last week is the start of a
threatened "winter of discontent" over staff safety.

The PCS union claims over 60,000 staff will walk out of work on monthly
strikes lasting up to five days if the removal of safety screens from JobCentre
Plus offices goes ahead.

While the new offices are designed to improve the openness of the service,
Mark Serwotka, general secretary elect of the PCS, claims that benefits staff
will be exposed to more assaults by customers. There are over 5,000 verbal and
physical assaults a year.

He said, "Our members are holding their first-ever national strike
because JobCentre Plus management is refusing to take safety concerns
seriously."

However, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Alistair Darling said he
intended to add to the 53 pathfinder offices, calling them a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to improve services.

"The majority of staff are positive about the changes and most of the
benefits agencies remain open," he said.

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