Job centre staff predict nationwide strike over safety

Over
300 striking job centre staff in London could be joined by their colleagues
nationwide, when they are balloted early this week.

The
dispute revolves around a new government policy called Job Centre Plus which
includes the removal of security screens which protect staff from attack.

In
some London "pathfinder" pilot offices the screens have already been
taken down, prompting the districts of Streatham and Brent to vote 334 to 78 in
favour of strike action. It’s feared that the discontent could spread to the
remainder of the capital or even around the rest of the country.

The
row was intensified after a police officer was stabbed at a Croydon office
while trying to placate an irate claimant. The Government wants to merge the
two departments and remove screens to make them more "personal and
friendly".

A
spokesman for the PCS union told Personnel Today, "There have been some
talks but so far no resolution. My feeling is that the upcoming ballot will
lead to nationwide strike action some time in October.

"Members
have to be protected as only last week there was an attack in a Bradford
office, where a hammer was used against a member of staff," he added.

A
spokesman for the Department of Works and Pensions defended the decision. He
said, "We’re still in discussions with the union and hope to resolve the
issues without major disruption. Safety is still paramount and we have
conducted full risk assessments in all the pathfinder locations and will comply
to all the recommendations.

"We
want to create a whole new relationship with clients, it’s not just about
taking down the screens," he added.

By
Ross Wigham

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