Theydon Boyce is a benefits worker in East London.
Tell us about the work you do.
I work in a east London processing centre that administers claims for Income Support, Jobseekers Allowance, Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance.
Do you and your workmates get the pay and conditions you deserve?
Definitely not. Some long serving colleagues have not had a consolidated pay rise for five years now. Low pay is endemic. 63% of civil servants earn less than £25,000 a year. The starting salary in my office is £17,650, barely above the London Living Wage. The sickness absence policy is particularly harsh, with many members receiving warnings even though they have disabilities or are genuinely ill. Management are currently preparing a drive on “performance” through the use of ever-increasing “benchmarks” (the amount of work you are supposed to carry out in a day). Failure to meet these benchmarks will result in warning letters and eventually dismissal.
How has the recent economic and political situation affected your work?
We have had our pay frozen, our redundancy scheme ripped up, offices closed, colleagues have been made redundant and now our pensions are being robbed. This is our “contribution” to the reducing the budget deficit.
What do people talk about in your workplace? How easy is it to “talk politics on the job”?
The sort of things most workers in most workplaces talk about — what was on TV last night, football, music etc. But given the nature of our employment it is very easy to talk politics and the class nature of the attacks we face.
The government has attacked benefits workers and claimants in different ways; how do workers see their relationship with claimants?
We’ll be lucky if we get half the staff here out on strike on 30 June. Some won’t even stand up for themselves, let alone claimants. But our branch has made some positive links with the Hackney Unemployed Workers group. We have been making the point in union meetings about how the attack on our conditions goes hand in hand with the attack on benefits.
What are your bosses like? Is there a problem with bullying and harassment by bosses?
Across the Department of Work and Pensions there is a huge problem with harassment from the bosses, but in the office where I work not so much. On the whole the managers treat the staff with some dignity, despite some notable exceptions.
Is there a union in your workplace, and does it do a good job?
Yes. Our union is PCS. They do quite a good job locally, holding regular meetings, representing members in grievances and disciplinaries. Quite a few people are not in the union, though.
One problem is that we have a lot of strikes, usually one or two days, over issues like pay and job losses. Following each strike there are usually months of inactivity with hardly any information coming out to members about negotiations and how they can have a say over the direction of the dispute.
If you could change one thing about your work, what would it be?
Improve the pay!