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Benefits offices are hit as angry staff strike over security.

Byline: PAUL BARRY

JOBCENTRES and benefits offices in Coventry were closed today as dole office workers went on strike over plans to take security screens out of their offices.

Workers, who today began a two-day strike, warned industrial action would continue until bosses re-think plans to remove the security screens.

People attending the offices found them closed, with a notice telling them to dial an emergency number.

Some 90 per cent of Benefits Agency staff in Coventry are in the union, and the agency's office in Cofa Court, Cheylesmore, did not open this morning.

The jobcentres at Bankfield House and Park Court in the city centre, along with those in Cheylesmore and Tile Hill, were also closed. Union members picketed outside.

The Public and Commercial Services Union, which organised the strike, estimated that only about 20 out of 300 staff had turned up for work in Coventry.

Union members voted for a nationwide strike in protest at the removal of the screens from new-style Jobcentre Plus offices, which combine jobcentres and benefit offices.

Benefits Agency and Jobcentre workers say there is a rising tide of attacks by violent clients and they need the protection that security screens give.

But the government says security guards and CCTV cameras should be enough to protect staff.

Pam Gainer, secretary of the union's Coventry Benefits Agency branch, said: "Our members have voted for up to five days strike action every month until we get management round the table."

Cllr Dave Nellist (Soc, St Michael's), who joined the workers outside the Benefits Agency office in Cheylesmore, said: "It is essential that staff have a safe working environment. Labour ministers are completely wrong to take away these screens."

CAPTION(S):

PICKET: Members of the PCS union in the city centre. Picture: ROY KILCULLEN
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Dec 12, 2001
Words:297
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