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Bulletin sent to Contact Centre Directorate Network Management Team staff (based in Sheffield) 18/01/2011

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.

Sheffield Contact Centre To Strike – 20th/21st January 2011
A PCS Memo for Contact Centre Directorate (NMT/COG etc) staff in Sheffield Hartshead Square

As you will no doubt be aware, your colleagues in Hartshead Square have voted for strike action over the outcome of the Telephony and Processing Implementation Project (TPIP) which it has been part of since October 2009. This is alongside six other sites also due to be taking action, namely Springburn, Newport, Norwich, Chorlton, Makerfield and Bristol, which are all also part of this project.

Why have we voted for action?

The demands of the strike are quite simple.

Members who have undergone the transformation in Sheffield and other sites have seen a vast reduction and detriment to their working conditions since the transformation (here, in May 2010), as well as a huge deskilling compared to previous years of experience.

Where many staff previously had access to full flexible working with little to no notice, they now have to give at least two, and sometimes a minimum of six weeks notice for anything other than a regimented working pattern under the strict ‘2x2x2’ rules. Staff find this degrading, and it has caused a great deal of stress for many members of staff. In addition, it has caused serious equalities concerns for those staff with caring responsibilities – many having to reduce their working hours (and therefore their pay) or pay more for childcare due to their loss of control in this area. Jobcentre Plus senior management have offered little in the way of concession in this area, and as such talks have broken down.

In addition, staff who work in these Contact Centres are also extremely unhappy about the increasingly pressurised, target driven environment in which they have to work. There are targets and benchmarks throughout the civil service and at most grades. The difference here, however is that Agents’ targets are driven by minutes and seconds, and not the number of tasks they can complete in their working day. As such many staff are constantly anxious about ‘increasing productivity’ by reducing call handling times due to the intimidating performance monitoring that line managers are forced to carry out.

This not only leads to high levels of stress in staff, but also to what PCS sees as a reduction in Customer Service. PCS disagrees with the Jobcentre Plus Contact Centre Management as to what constitutes good customer service – we believe that service users should have the time and expertise of a member of staff who has the flexibility in their job to complete the task properly. Instead, the scripted software and propensity to ‘hand-off’ to processing sites means that customers often have to speak to several members of staff. PCS is of the mind that all our staff should be highly skilled and able to deal with a range of queries – both for customer service and for their own job satisfaction and development. At present there is little to no prospect for any development within the Contact Centre, which leaves staff with low morale and looking for employment elsewhere.

A Sick Place to Work

It is well documented by both PCS and DWP that Contact Centres have a much higher than average level of sickness than other parts of Jobcentre Plus, and much of this is due to work related stress. The statistics in Sheffield Contact Centre are alarming. Between April 2010 (the month prior to the transformation) and November 2010 (6 months into the project), the average working days lost more than doubled, from 6.2 to 13.9. Even more concerningly, actual working days lost more than quadrupled in this period, rising from 96 days in April to 446 days in November, steadily increasing over those months with a peak in September of 502 days. The union finds it unnacceptable that this has occurred since the transformation, and in addition, the statistics show that the percentage of days lost through stress, anxiety, or depression related sickness rose from 14.6% in April to 48% in August, at which point it was consistently above 40% until November.

We believe that the current Contact Centre ways of working are clearly unhealthy for staff and are causing worrying rises in mental health concerns. This has been further backed up through discussions we have had with the University of Sheffield who specialise in Call Centre Studies.

What you can do to support your colleagues in Sheffield Contact Centre?

  • Do not volunteer to undertake any work which is aimed at undermining the strike.
  • Picket Hartshead Square before work or if you are not at work that day – there will be a picket line from 7am to 10.30am on both days.
    Wear something red to work to show solidarity.
  • Wear a sticker stating “I support the Contact Centre workers”, these will be available from reps or outside Hartshead and Cavendish Court.
  • Attend the demo in Hartshead Square on 20th at 12.30 in your lunch break. This will only be 15-30 minutes long, but it is important that you show your support if you can.
  • Donate to the branch hardship fund
  • Contact Centre members will be losing two days pay for this action. This fund is designed to help those members in most need following a spell of industrial action. Many members have already committed sizeable sums  towards this. Contact your local rep to donate!

PCS DWP Sheffield Branch Executive & PCS DWP HQ Branch Executive



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