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Strike may affect festive benefits.

Byline: Steve Tucker

A STRIKE by Benefits Agency staff - which today entered its second day - may affect Christmas payments to claimants across South Wales.

And union officials have warned that they will escalate their action in the New Year unless their demands are met.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services Union are picketing Benefit Agency and JobCentre offices across the region as part of a national two-day strike to demonstrate against management plans to remove glass screens that protect them from violent clients.

Before the start of the strike, the Department for Work and Pensions said that Christmas benefit payments would be paid on time as they had already been processed.

But today it admitted that it could not rule out that the strikes would affect Christmas payments to claimants.

A spokeswoman said: "It would be foolish to say there might not be any effect in the run up to Christmas because anything could happen, but we believe there will not be a knock-on effect."

The spokeswoman said less than a third of union members were supporting the strike. She added: "One has to question the level of support for the action by trade union members. They do not currently have enough staff on strike to make a difference."

In South Wales, Benefits Agency offices in Aberdare, Pontypridd, Porth and Tonypandy remained closed today and services at others continued to be disrupted.

Senior national officer of the Public and Commercial Services Union, in Cardiff, Jeff Evans, said the strike had huge support.

"Reports so far indicate we have had a very broad base of support from our members, " said Mr Evans. "We regret having to take this action, but it is about safety and we find ourselves in the regrettable situation where management will not even meet and talk with us.

"There will be no more strikes before Christmas, but we will continue in January and even escalate our action."
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Dec 13, 2001
Words:321
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