By Marcus Leach
7,000 staff in Jobcentre Plus's 37 call centres will stage a 24-hour walk-out on Monday as part of a continued row about working conditions and management targets.
Public and Commercial Services union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka says work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith should withdraw his "thoroughly disgraceful" description of the action as "Neanderthal-like" and apologise.
"He's talking about some of the lowest paid in the civil service who are being forced to take action to improve the service they provide to some of the most vulnerable people in society, in the face of unacceptable working conditions and an obsession with computer driven targets," Mr Serwotka added.
"The truth is, staff are monitored every minute of the day. The computer dictates start and finish times and tells them when to go for a break, with staff hauled up if they are 40 seconds late back or go over the time allowed for a call. Toilet breaks are monitored and constantly questioned.
"These call centres are a vital lifeline for members of the public when they need to claim benefits, when they're sick or disabled or need help getting back into work. Enquiries are often complicated and many callers are understandably desperate and upset - some of them have no one else to turn to.
"Our members are not numbers, and neither are the unemployed, and they want to help people, but often they're encouraged to just get the caller off the phone as quickly as possible and this can not be right."
The union is still waiting for Mr Duncan Smith to apologise for falsely describing revelations about targets for benefit sanctions as "claptrap" and a "conspiracy" just days before his department was forced to accept the story was true.
PCS national president Janice Godrich said: "Unemployment is rising and we’re seeing swingeing attacks on welfare. It’s unacceptable that standards of service in Jobcentre Plus are falling as a result of staff being subjected to an unachievable target culture that is given priority over delivering vital public services."