Non-striking civil servants ‘pretended to be answering machines’ to handle volume of calls

Civil service strike-breakers pretended to be answering machines to cope with a high volume of calls during Monday’s industrial action, it has been claimed.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants in Carlisle have alleged they were ordered to imitate answerphones between 12pm and 2pm on Monday, so that when callers got through, the workers would say: “Due to the high volume of enquiries we are currently experiencing, we are unable to take your call”.

The claim, widely discussed on social networking site Facebook, is said to have made non-strikers consider joining the strike – which lasted two days between 8 Monday and 9 Tuesday March – over changes to the civil service redundancy terms.

One worker who contacted the News & Star, said: “To start with, we all found it hard to keep a straight face. But we were told to do this. Occasionally, I slipped up and gave my name to the person who was calling. I believe the idea was that we would have difficulty coping because of the strike, but it just seems like a silly way to handle it.

“We were asking why they didn’t just prepare a proper answerphone message saying we couldn’t answer calls because of the industrial action. It just seemed wrong to hang up on people.”

Jennifer Wright, a branch organiser for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), whose members were striking, said: “Pretending to be an answering machine is hardly good customer service.”

The PCS claimed that more than 200,000 employees had walked out during the first day of the strike causing “widespread disruption” to services.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Due to a high volume of customer calls [on Monday] between 12pm and 2pm, some customers were asked to call back after 2pm. Otherwise, the majority of our customers had their calls and requests dealt with immediately and in the usual manner.”

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