Three in five Jobcentre Plus employees feel it is too unsafe to return to their offices, prompting a union to threaten industrial action if staff are forced to go back to work.
A survey of 1,299 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union found only 21% of Jobcentre Plus staff would feel safe dealing with benefits claimants face-to-face.
Health and safety
Since 12 April, more in-person interviews at jobcentres have been able to take place. However, the PCS said many of these conversations could be done over the phone.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said the leaders at the Department for Work and Pensions should meet with staff soon “to avoid potential industrial action”.
“These results reflect the anger and frustration our members feel every day,” he said.
“Thousands of Department for Work and Pensions staff have been providing support to claimants safely from home throughout the pandemic – the only logical reason they would insist on fully reopening is because management’s obsession with sanctioning vulnerable claimants.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said health and safety is taken “extremely seriously” by the department and that it was committed to ensuring that all of its sites are Covid secure.
“Throughout this pandemic, jobcentres have remained open to ensure we can continue to provide vital support to the most vulnerable. Our return to full opening hours will enable us to provide even more help and support to those who need us,” the spokesperson said.
Members of the PCS union organised a four-day strike at the DVLA’s Swansea head office earlier this month over claims that operational staff were scared to go to work because of Covid-19 concerns.
Last week the union said DVLA management had become “increasingly hostile” towards striking employees, with some being barred from overtime and subjected to “forensic questioning” over their involvement in the strike.
Serwotka said: “It is truly unconscionable that a civil service employer would behave in such a way towards its workforce. Our hard-working members at DVLA have shown repeatedly that they are scared of the unsafe conditions in their workplace, and there is simply no excuse for the employer’s approach.”
A spokesperson for the DVLA said: “Any claims of hostility towards staff who choose to take industrial action are simply not true. We have a zero tolerance policy to bullying and harassment with a clear and established process for escalating any concerns.
“We have been clear in our advice to line managers that they should engage with staff they manage who raised individual health and safety concerns to fully capture those concerns so that we can understand them. Any member of staff can of course decline to engage in this process if they wish and if they choose to decline, that is fully accepted. Just like any responsible employer we want to understand the health and safety concerns of staff regarding their individual workplace so we can address these concerns.
“The safety of our staff is paramount, and we have followed Welsh Government guidance throughout the pandemic and have worked throughout it with Public Health Wales, Swansea Environmental Health and Swansea Bay Health Board to introduce a wide range of safety measures.”