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PATHFINDER UPDATE
13th February 02

1) Radio Scotland interview with Alistair Darling 29th Jan 02
2) Letter to Mark Serwotka from Darling's office 7th Feb 02
3) Moderate faction's motion to the NEC 12th Feb


1) Radio Scotland interview (their transcript - unedited)

LESLEY RIDDOCH

Yesterday, you might remember, we were discussing the strike that is happening in Benefit offices over the plans to shift all of the work to new Jobcentre Plus offices, which do not have security screens. Well, to give us the employer's side of the story we are joined now by Alistair Darling, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Hello, Alistair.


ALISTAIR DARLING MP. Secretary of State for Works and Pensions

Hello.


LESLEY RIDDOCH

Alistair, the union are saying, in fact I have got a quote here from their General
Secretary Elect saying, "It will be criminal folly to carry out what is in effect a giant
experiment in which the physical safety of staff is being put at risk".


ALISTAIR DARLING MP

Yes, but we are not doing that. Perhaps I can explain to your listeners what we are doing. We want to provide a much better service to people, to give them the help they need to help people to get back into work, to make sure that they get the right level of benefits and we don't believe that we can do through a thick glass screen. Now, the new offices are predominantly unscreened, they do have screened facilities available within the area where we see people who we know have caused problems in the past or where there is particular aspects of the department's business which can be problematic, but in their place you have got open-plan offices which you have security staff who are on the floor with instructions to intervene if there is any trouble at all, they have got closed circuit television, they have got other measures - all of which, incidentally, were discussed with union representatives over the last summer as we were developing these plans. But the real proof of where I think the union is wrong is that if you take the fifty-six offices, these Jobcentre plus offices which opened in October, throughout this entire dispute, throughout all that time most of them have been in work all the time. What I say to the union is if it is good enough for the people who are actually working in these offices, who say they like the environment, then it ought to be good enough for some I some of the people who are on strike who, frankly, in some cases do backroom processing and won't actually see members of the public during the course of their work. So I think what we are doing is it is a lot of investment, a lot of money going into the system, it will be better for the public and I think it will be better for our staff, too.


LESLEY RIDDOCH

Well, the union are saying that they have, I think it was something like there is three attacks a week on Benefit staff.


ALISTAIR DARLING MP

Well, if you look at the facts, we see about twenty million people a year. Last year there was just over a hundred and sixty physical assaults on staff. So, we see twenty million a year, thankfully these attacks on staff are comparatively rare. Now, obviously any attack is something to be deplored and something we want to prevent. One of the reasons that we are changing the system to having security staff who will intervene is because in the past when I used to visit offices it used to strike me as odd that the security staff were told not to intervene. Now they are told they should intervene if there is any trouble. The CCTV, the other measures we are taking, like better management of the way that people come in, where people are approached right from the start and guided round the system, have already borne results. Let me give you an example. In Paisley, one of the offices there had real problems with people coming in and trying to deal with drugs in the waiting area, causing all sorts of trouble. When they put member of staff on the front door to say to people, look, how can we help you, why are you coming in here, what can we do for you, it got rid of a lot of these people. So there is a lot of measures you can put in place that make the place better for our staff and, critically, better for members of the public.


LESLEY RIDDOCH

Okay. But. I mean, the argument could be for the other side, I mean I am just looking at an example of an attack on a female member of staff in Stretford, fifteen youths attacked her. At that point there was no film in the closed circuit camera ..... and no security guard was apparently available. Now, the point they are making out of all of that is that secondary safety measures like these are fine, but the first safety measure that they consider to have been proved, tested and works, is the security screens. So just, Alistair, what would be wrong with having your safety screen through the back and having your folk up at the front?


ALISTAIR DARLING MP

Because you can't sit people down and give them advice on getting them back into work, which sometimes you have got to go through a lot of discussion, you know, skills and qualifications, when you are effectively having to shout at somebody through a plate glass screen. What I would also say to you, Lesley, if you look at those attacks, I mentioned there is a hundred and sixty-odd physical attacks a year, they don't all take place in the office. We send out people to go and do home visits, of the very nature there is a risk there but we try to do our best to try and minimise it. You can never make anything risk-free. But what

I can say to you is that if you bear in mind we see twenty million people a year, the fact that we have had a hundred and sixty-three physical assaults on staff is something that is deplorable but actually I think it puts it in context. But I do come back to the point - if we were wrong and the union was right, two things would happen: one is you would expect the staff who are on strike to be the ones working in the new offices whereas to a large extent they are all at work and they are enjoying it; secondly, and I have just got today's figures because we actually know how many people come in, the number of people on strike today are about twenty-three percent of our staff. So nearly eighty percent of our staff are in work and that tends to suggest to me that our staff think the approach that we are putting forward is a reasonable one. Of course we will discuss details and so on, but the idea that we should start putting up glass screens, even in offices where there aren't any at the moment, doesn't seem to me to make any sense at all.

LESLEY RIDDOCK

Okay. Final thing, then, why not just go to ACAS?


ALISTAIR DARLING MP

Well, if you are having a wage dispute, arbitration can be quite a sensible way of
going through it. There is a point of principle here. As I said to you, we believe you can only deliver this service through a predominantly unscreened environment. The union's position is the screens have got to go up. Now, you can't have half a screen.


LESLEY RIDDOCH

But, Alistair, isn't' the position that they are happy enough with the idea that where staff are working mainly on placement there has been no screens for a while, but it is where people are working with Benefit, where someone is going to be in the position of having to say to somebody, actually, no, you are not going to get a Social Fund loan; actually, no, you are not eligible for that; actually you must now take a job.


ALSTAIR DARLING MP

Let me make two points to you here. Firstly, you are right, in the Jobcentres the screens came down about ten years ago, I may say after a similar strike, but they came down and no one in the Job Centres I staff there, want to see them go back up. But Sometimes people in the Job Centre give advice on Benefits and they also sometimes have to confront people with what to them is the unpleasant truth they have got to go to work. So you can have difficulties there. Second thing so far as Benefits is concerned is that it is downright insulting to suggest that most people on Benefits are potentially violent - they are not. Of course you get incidents and of course you have to have sensible help, like security staff, like CCTV, there to help. But the final thing is we are actually bringing together the employment side and the Benefits side together. The whole point of Jobcentre Plus is that we want once and for all to break this artificial distinction between people who signed on for work and for people who have simply signed on for Benefit. We want to get more people into work, our policies so far are working, there is! is records levels of employment, but we can only do more if we make this investment, if we make these changes and, as I say to you, the staff who are actually doing this work are there at work.


LESLEY RIDDOCH


Fair enough, but they are not the ones who have lost three hundred thousand working days so far. It is just a puzzle as to how this can manage to be one of the longest-running dispute in the Civil service for fifteen years. Why can't you just put it to ACAS, came up with some in-between thing and if it is...


ALISTAIR DARLING (interrupts)

But you can't be in between about having a screen or not.


LESLEY RIDDOCH.

....and if it is as groovy as you say it is, people will just knuckle on and get on with it. Do a pilot scheme or something.


ALISTAIR DARLING MP

Lesley, the problem that the union has is the people actually working in the Jobcentre Plus offices are for the most part, in work. There is a minority of our staff out on strike; some of them I know for a fact will never, ever see members of the public because their job doesn't require them to. Now, the problem the union has got is they can't even persuade their own members let alone anybody else. We know that when we tried to settle this last October their Dispute Committee recommended they should accept the settlement that was being offered then, that was overturned by the Executive, that is their right, but the problem they have got is the vast majority of our staff are in work and, as I say to you, the people actually working in these new Jobcentre Plus offices are for the most part in work, they have been there since they opened in October. That is why I don't think what we are proposing is being unreasonable. What we are doing is trying to provide a first-class service to the public and, frankly, it is the public that both the Government and the people who work for us are there to serve.


LESLEY RIDDOCH

Okay, well, thanks for that side of it. Thanks, indeed, to Alistair Darling.


2) Letter to Mark Serwotka from Darling's office 7th Feb 02

JOBCENTRE PLUS


You wrote to the Secretary of State on 1 February.

As you are aware Ministers want to see this dispute resolved in accordance with the principle that Jobcentre Plus is delivered from a predominantly unscreened environment. Negotiations with the PCS on this matter are a matter for Leigh Lewis and his managers who are acting at all times with the complete confidence and full authority of Ministers. If the PCS has proposals to end this dispute which are in accordance with the underlying principles of Jobcentre Plus then they should be made to Leigh Lewis as indicated in his letter of 30 January.



3) Moderate faction's motion to the NEC 12th Feb 02

 

PUBLIC AND COMMERCIAL SERVICES UNION
160 Falcon Road, London SW11 2LN


TO: NATIONAL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE

FROM: Barry Reamsbottom, General Secretary

DATE: 11 February 2002

SUBJECT: MOTION FROM STUART CURRIE


TIMING:
For discussion at the next meeting of the NEC on 12 February.

ISSUE:
The following motion has been received for discussion under item 6 of the agenda for the February meeting of the NEC:

MOTION TO THE NEC
This NEC applauds the sacrifice of members who have supported industrial action over the DWP dispute to secure a safe working environment, but reluctantly acknowledges that the action mounted so far has failed to change the stance of management or ministers. We also recognise that the action to date has cost £7 million and exhausted the union's campaign funds. We believe that in order to have any significant future impact it would be necessary to seriously escalate the action beyond the two-day strikes mounted so far.

This NEC notes the attempts made by the GECs of both the BA and ES to provide accurate assessments of levels of support for past and future action, and acknowledges the fact that support in the ES is far less than in the BA, which has been the case throughout the dispute. This is underlined by the fact that the branch of national vice-president and ES Group president Janice Godrich could only summon modest levels of support for action.

In order to help create a suitable environment for further talks, this NEC agrees that:

· All industrial action, including selective action, should be suspended as a sign of "good faith" whilst further urgent discussions are sought on the basis of the "Peterborough agreement".


· Special meetings of both the GECs and the NEC to consider the outcome of discussions should be scheduled;

· Arrangements should be put in hand to prepare for a ballot of members on any draft agreement resulting from talks with management;

· Arrangements should also be put in hand to prepare for a ballot of members to escalate to all-out indefinite strike action in the event that any draft agreement is rejected by members in a ballot.


GENERAL SECRETARY


So, here we have a Labour government which doesn't care about the lives of its workers, and the second biggest grouping on the NEC doing its best to assist it. Depressing, ain't it? Curries motion went down like the proverbial lead balloon, but of course he can return to his political paymasters to report that he at least tried to smash the strike for them, but the REDS and their fellow travellers conspired and combined to thwart his very reasonable motion.

However, it remains to be seen if he has yet mastered Barry's art of fawning to "New Labour", or whether they too will class him as a useless liability.

barrabas