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BENEFIT STRIKE; Staff picket JobCentres as row over safety screens continues.

Byline: Chris Herdman and Greg Truscott

BENEFIT and JobCentre staff in Cardiff went on strike today in protest at proposals to remove glass screens which protect them from violent clients.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union picketed Benefit Agency and JobCentre offices to demonstrate against management plans to implement open-plan desks at benefit payment points.

The union fears that removal of the glass screens will put workers at risk of attack when claimants respond violently to unwelcome decisions.

The national strike was expected to bring serious disruption to benefit payments and JobCentre operations, including the three major Cardiff Benefit Agency offices in Wood Street, Cowbridge Road and Newport Road.

On the same day, representatives of the main postal union have ruled out strike action, despite a decision by Consignia - formerly the Post Office - to axe up to 30,000 jobs nationally.

Steve Bell, the Communication Workers Union's branch secretary for south east Wales, said: "There can't be any industrial action before Christmas because we need to ballot members first, but unless current negotiations with Consignia achieve results, action will be inevitable to defend these jobs.

"This is crude cost-cutting."

Val Bodden, Consignia's spokeswoman for Wales, said: "We hope to achieve many of the job losses by voluntary redundancies and by making efficiency changes.

"But it is not yet known how the job losses will affect postal workers in South Wales."

The strike by Benefit Agency workers was today expected to disrupt the agency's services across the country.

In Cardiff, union members were holding a rally outside Southgate House in Wood Street.

A Benefit Agency in Wales spokeswoman said offices could be forced to shut completely if enough union members went on strike.

But Richard Bould, area secretary for the Public and Commercial Services Union, said that the strike was to protect staff safety.

He said: "Last year there were more than 5,000 incidents in our offices and of these, 159 resulted in physical assault.

"If protection screens were removed, the figure could sky rocket.

"Nobody wants to have screens but in today's increasingly violent society they have become a necessary fact of life."

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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 12, 2001
Words:361
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