Staff go on strike at Norwich and Lowestoft Jobcentre contact centres

Staff at Jobcentre contact centres in Norwich and Lowestoft went on strike today as part of a long running dispute over working conditions.

The strikes had been called by the Public Commercial Services union (PCS) and was part of national wave of industrial action.

Today's action was called for as the union says staff are facing stress at work and financial hardship due to over bearing management, a lack of flexi-time and a need for more staff.

The PCS also says staff are forced to end calls from people seeking vital information so they can meet Department for Work and Pensions's targets.

As part of the strike about 18 union members picketed the Norwich and Lowestoft contact centres which handle calls from people about crisis loans, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Income Support and Incapacity Benefit.

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About 12 union members picketed the Norwich centre in Mountergate in the morning.

David Seagrave, PCS branch secretary for Norfolk and Suffolk and who joined the picket line, said: 'Members are at the sharp end daily in a system that is broken – claims are taking weeks on end to process, call backs are not being made as the offices can't keep up.

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'Members are left unable to get time off, stress absence is running high, and members face a barrage of statistics with targets to hit from time taken in breaks to time speaking to customers.

'This is on top of the pay freeze for the last six years, no progression, slashing our pensions and the closure of contact centres members have had to face.'

Nick Bird, vice chairman of the Norfolk and Suffolk branch of the PCS, was at the picket in Lowestoft's Clapham Road South and which saw about six union members take part throughout the morning.

Mr Bird said up to three quarters of the centre's 200 staff took industrial action.

He added: 'The strike is all about work conditions.

'There is an excessive monitoring of staff by management and no provision for flexible working.

'It has caused a lot of stress and sickness among staff. People feel under real pressure here.'

'It is never an easy thing going on strike, especially with the current economic climate - but members feel something has to be done.'

Nationally more than 6,000 members of PCS in 32 call centres in England, Scotland and Wales took industrial action today.

The strike was called after a PCS ballot saw 82pc of members agree to take action.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: 'We are disappointed that some staff are taking industrial action which we think is unnecessary. We have gone to great lengths to resolve issues with unions.

'Jobcentres and benefit payments will be unaffected and claimants will be able to access some information online, so any impact will be limited.'

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