18 April 2011
History was made today with a first ever picket line at Halifax Jobcentre Plus call centre.That means all 37 centres on strike had a picket line outside. Despite the loss of a day’s pay PCS lead rep Andy Lucas was in a buoyant mood as he worked hard to increase the numbers striking.
As a crisis loan decision maker he’s experienced worsening conditions since he commenced employment six years ago.
Andy said: “New technology has been employed to set unrealistic times for staff to try and resolve what are often complex problems. The result is, of course, a poorer service for customers. Frustrated, many staff leave and the annual turnover is touching 40%.”
His colleague and fellow PCS rep David Lowry had previously worked in call centres in various parts of the world before starting in Halifax three years ago.
Employees are treated like battery hens. When I started you had an average of 22 minutes to deal with each call, but that was cut to just 17 minutes and 40 seconds
He had no doubt he was doing the right thing in joining the 90% of 180 PCS members, amongst the overall total of 280 workers, out on strike as: “Employees are treated like battery hens. When I started you had an average of 22 minutes to deal with each call, but that was cut to just 17 minutes and 40 seconds.
“Unable to cope staff would put down the phone on customers for fear of exceeding the limits for dealing with calls. And yet these are people in crisis such as single mothers with children without food, gas or heating. Staff don’t want to let them down.”
Ensuring that’s the case has become more difficult, as despite “entering negotiations with the honest intention of resolving the problems” management have chosen to cut average times by a further minute reported fellow picket Jane Aitchison, the group president of PCS in the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) – which includes Jobcentres.
Jane’s convinced those in charge have got it wrong. She reports that wouldn’t be the first time as prior to the ballot “management appeared to believe people wouldn’t vote for action. Then when we won the ballot I think they thought we wouldn’t call it for fear of people not responding.
Today’s events at what has previously been one of the less well organised Jobcentre Plus centres demonstrates that management need to adopt a very different approach. We look forward to them doing so.”