DWP in the dock over its handling of redundancy payments

Tim Lezard

ThompsonsA group of PCS members could be in line to share more than £1 million after a successful legal battle.

Several hundred people previously employed in jobcentres on fixed term contracts are now entitled to proper redundancy payments following a key employment tribunal ruling.

The case exposes an attempt by successive governments to ride roughshod over workers’ employment rights and a refusal to recognise the value and importance of maintaining a properly-resourced essential public service.

An employment judge has found in favour of two lead claimants, supported by the union, who like thousands of others had been taken on to help deal with the rise in unemployment after the recession hit in 2008.

Before 2008 Jobcentre Plus (JCP) employed around 200-300 fixed-term staff, but this rocketed to 13,000 by September 2009 after a freeze on recruiting permanent workers.

JCP, part of the Department for Work and Pensions, had tried to argue that ending a fixed term contract was not the same as making someone redundant, but the union successfully showed that it was.

When the legal action was initiated it affected more than 3,000 of the union’s members. But some fixed-term staff have since been made permanent after consistent pressure from the union.

The union says workloads across DWP remain high and there are serious staffing shortages. Since May 2010 the department has cut 20,000 staff, a fall of 19%, and the union says these levels should be restored by recruiting new permanent staff and converting the remaining fixed-term staff onto permanent contracts.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The DWP should have treated these workers properly, not like cheap labour to be hired and fired on a whim. This case exposes something deeply rotten at the heart of government, where vital public services are cut to the bone purely to suit a political agenda.”

PCS deputy general secretary Hugh Lanning said: “Of all departments, DWP should have known better – this is their ‘day’ job. They got rid of the staff because there was no more work for them to do, it was obvious to us that they made them redundant. I hope they act swiftly now to pay all the staff affected by this decision the money they are owed.”

Solicitor Andrew James, of Thompsons, who acted for the claimants, said: “I am delighted the claimants have succeeded. Thousands of fixed-term employees were dismissed to meet ministerial headcount reductions. The DWP’s argument that this did not amount to redundancy flew in the face of both clear legal authority and plain common sense.”

 


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Tim Lezard

Campaigning journalist, editor of @Union_NewsUK, NUJ exec member; lover of cricket, football, cycling, theatre and dodgy punk bands

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