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Join us on the picket line! Strike Bulletin for Sheffield Contact Centre: Wednesday 18/01/2011

Posted by pcsdwpsheffield in Uncategorized.

To all members in Sheffield Contact Centre,
By now we hope that the strong feeling in the Contact Centre and the evidence of real reason to take action has been encouraging for members.
Such is the strength of feeling of members of staff in the Contact Centre that in the last few days a number of people in the office have joined PCS – and membership forms are still piling in. If you know someone who would like to join please ask them to contact us for a form.
Scare Tactics
A management circular signed from Stuart Griffiths was today issued to staff. We would like to draw attention to the penultimate paragraph; “A gentle reminder that only staff included in the ballot are eligible to join the forthcoming strike action and managers will have no choice but to consider formal action in the event of unauthorised absences.” We believe that this is incorrect information, and we have had advice from PCS Group Office that the existing policy still stands. Please see DWP policy:
17.13 Taking lawful industrial action is not a disciplinary matter. Employees must meet the Department’s Standards of Behaviour during industrial action (for example when they are on a picket line). Disciplinary action may be considered when they do not.
As this action has not been challenged as unlawful by the employer, any PCS member working in the balloted workplace (including those on detached duty to other parts of the business) is legitimately entitled to take action without fear of retaliation. The only people who could be considered to be taking unlawful action would be people who do not work in that workplace. The workplace is defined as ‘Sheffield Contact Centre’.

A Sick Place to Work
The statistics for sickness levels in Sheffield Contact Centre are out, and what an eye-opener they are.
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 Institute of Work Psychology at University of Sheffield who specialise in Call Centre Studies.
Open up the campaign!
Evidence such as the above has galvanised the branch’s view that these changes are issues for the whole national contact centre network. Any gains made will be of benefit to those staff in the other 32 sites, and therefore we should be fighting alongside these members, which can only add to our strength.
The Branch’s View
Many members have made the point that this action has been a long time coming. The branch committee has been campaigning to take industrial action on the issue since October 2009 and are disappointed and frustrated that it has taken this long. However, we are now please that the action is finally going ahead and still believe that this is a fight worth having. What we must remember is that as a national project, TPIP is still not yet complete, and several sites have yet to transform.
A Roundup
One of the failings of the local branch is that we often don’t advertise the work we do to our members enough. Over the past year or so the BEC has had ‘TPIP Campaign’ as a running agenda item and we have worked tirelessly at every angle to pursue members interests. This included a ‘Save Sheffield BDC’ campaign initially, in which reps and members met regularly to discuss issues. We issued Paul Archer with a petition from PCS members across Departments in Sheffield with hundred of names on. We’ve also raised issues nationally with PCS which have been taken into negotiation, such as the interpretation of the ten minute flexibility, scheduling and Workforce Manager. We’ve been in regular talks with local management raising issues collectively on behalf of members, as well as individually helping literally hundreds of members in the Contact Centre who have been affected either through health or work issues by the change.
Join the Picket!
Joining the picket line is the best way to show your support for the strike. Not only does it make it publicly visible that we are taking action, a strong picket line may often change the minds of staff who were planning on breaking it. Sometimes we even get non-union members coming to work and then joining the union on the picket line there and then.
The picket will be running from 7am until 10.30am and attendance looks very strong. We are expecting a number of supporters from elsewhere in PCS, other unions, and also students to come along too, so they will be keen to show their support to Contact Centre members. Members are encouraged to make every attempt to join the picket for as much time as they can spare on one or both days. Wrap up warm!
Keep checking the branch website for updates but be mindful of the Electronic Media Policy.

Contact Centre Reps and the Branch Executive Committee



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