By Claire West

The threat of industrial action by more than 20,000 staff in two major government departments was raised this week with members of PCS voting in ballots over cuts and working conditions.

In the Department for Work and Pensions, where 7,000 staff in Jobcentre Plus’s (JCP) 37 call centres are campaigning against intolerable working conditions that make it impossible to provide a good service, 70% voted to strike on a turnout of 43%.

The ballot widens a dispute which led to two days of strike action 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.

Talks with management are ongoing and the union’s senior reps in the DWP meet next Thursday to discuss the next steps.

Almost a third of members balloting for industrial action
In the Home Office PCS members were balloted for industrial action short of a strike over plans to cut 8,500 jobs from the department and the victimisation of two senior reps. They voted in favour by 82% on a 27% turnout. The union has announced an indefinite overtime and work to rule from next Thursday and has said it will ballot for strike action in the event of any compulsory redundancies.

Sue Kendal, the union’s southern and south eastern branch secretary, and Home Office group president Mark Hammond - the most senior elected rep in the department - have been instrumental in the union’s campaign against cuts to frontline UK Border Agency staff in Kent. They were sacked in the autumn following unsubstantiated allegations relating to a satirical newsletter.

The results come ahead of the March for the Alternative demo in London today and as the union is considering a national industrial action ballot over cuts to jobs and pensions, and is in talks with other unions about co-ordinating action.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “In Jobcentre Plus, our members do not want unnecessary and unrealistic targets, they just want to provide a good quality service and to help callers effectively and efficiently.

“In the Home Office, it is clear senior managers are gearing up to make massive job cuts and we will not stand by and allow this to happen.

“The budget proved that George Osborne’s only plan for our economy is to unleash a new free-market experiment on the people of this country. Instead of cutting back on staff and sacking our reps, the government should be investing to help get people back to work quicker.”