Headlines: December 7th, 2001

Workers in 1600 Job Centres and Benefit Offices have voted to take five days unpaid leave each month to protest about the removal of security screens in the new Job Centre Plus offices. The action is in support 3,000 staff already on strike in the 57 Jobcentre Plus pilot offices. This latest development could affect 100,000 benefit claimants.The Public and Commercial Services Union is concerned about the rise in the number of cases where staff have been assaulted. Security screens are viewed by the union not only as a protection for staff but also as a deterrent to would be assailants. For many years Benefit Offices have been equipped with screens.

The new Agency which has been formed from the merger of the Benefits Agency and the Employment Service is providing a seamless service to people who are unemployed. It focuses on finding jobs and has designed the new Job Centre Plus offices to provide a relaxed atmosphere where people can talk through problems and get advice. Customers are dealt with by one person who has a responsibility for both jobs and benefits. The Agency argues that security screens would be out of place in the new style office and that the CCTV cameras and the security guard who is on duty at all times, provide adequate security.