Headlines: August 29th, 2001

The Public and Commercial Services Union, with 3,000 members in the new Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs has confirmed that it will take selective strike action this week. Staff in a number of other offices will also work to rule. The new department was formed in June following, the election, by the merger of the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food and elements of the Department for Environment Transport and Regions. The union claims that former MAFF members in DEFRA can earn up to £4,000 a year less than their colleagues from the former DETR.The union’s hand has been strengthened by the high level of support for the one day strike held earlier this month and by more staff signing up for union membership.

A potential threat to the setting up of the Jobcentre Plus Agency has been removed with an agreement between the Public and Commercial Services Union and the new agency. Jobcentre Plus was formed from the merger of the Employment Service and Benefits Agency. The plan to launch 50 pathfinder Jobcentre Plus offices in the next few months was put in jeopardy by a dispute about protective screens for staff and compulsory transfers to the new offices.

Although customers applying for benefits and seeking jobs will often be the same people, the risk of confrontation with staff is much higher with benefit claimants. There is a particularly high risk with those applying for Social Fund crisis loans, particularly if a loan is refused. Jobcentre Plus management has now agreed that protective screens will be installed as was the practice for Benefits Agency offices.

It has also been agreed that transfers to the pathfinder offices will be on a voluntary basis.