By Claire West

Thousands of Jobcentre Plus call centre staff will strike on 18 April after bosses refused to improve working conditions and customer service.

In a ballot of the union’s 7,000 members in JCP’s 37 call centres across the country, 70% of those who took part voted for strike action. The turnout was 43%.

Following this strong result, the union agreed not to call any industrial action to allow negotiations to continue. But senior managers have shown little willingness to resolve the dispute.

The action will follow a well-supported two-day strike in January by more than 2,000 workers in JCP’s seven newest contact centres who have been forcibly moved from processing benefit claims to handling enquiries by phone.

The union wants to improve the levels of customer service in call centres; end the target driven culture, particularly by changing the way unrealistic ‘average call times’ are used; and introduce proper flexible working arrangements.

PCS’s Department for Work and Pensions group president Jane Aitchison said: “We are being prevented from providing a good quality service to the public because of unnecessary and unrealistic call centre targets.

“We entered into negotiations in good faith because we care about the help and advice we give to some of the most vulnerable people in society. It’s very disappointing that our management didn’t do the same.”

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: “With unemployment rising and welfare recipients being blamed for an economic crisis they did not cause, it is outrageous that standards are being driven down in Jobcentre Plus.

“Instead of punishing people who are claiming benefits through no fault of their own, the government should be investing in our public services to help get people back to work quicker and to help our economy to grow.”