Sheffield job centre staff strike over closure plans

Alistair Tice.
Alistair Tice.

Workers at a job centre in one of the most deprived areas in Sheffield are on strike today in protest against its closure.

The Government plans to close the Eastern Avenue job centre along with 77 others across the country when its contract expires in March next year.

Under the proposals, it would be merged with two existing Job centres in the city, at Cavendish Court, about three miles away, and Bailey Court, 3.6 miles away.

But campaigners battling to save the centre, which they say is used by more than 1,100 people a week, warned claimants would struggle to access other centres, meaning they could lose out on benefits or find it harder to access support to get back into work.

In addition, staff who are members of the public service union PCS staged a walk out today in protect at the move. The strike will be followed by a five-day stoppage from Monday, June 12.

Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: "The Eastern Avenue jobcentre is located in one of the most deprived parts of Sheffield and provides a vital service to the local community.

"Closing the jobcentre would have a massive impact. Our message is clear, listen to staff and the local community, stop the cuts and defend public services.”

Announcement of the proposed closure prompted Sheffield Heeley MP Louise Haigh to launch a petition in protest at the move, which has been signed by thousands of people.

Protests have previously been held outside the job centre.

Alistair Tice, of the union Unison Community, said: "Closing this Jobcentre would have a massive impact on people living in this area, which is among the most deprived in the city and is home to a large number of disabled people. It could mean they're paying £10 a week on bus fares out of benefits that aren't enough as it is."

The Department for Work and Pensions said staff at Eastern Avenue, where around 75 people work, will be offered a transfer to another Jobcentre.

It has also offered to reimburse job-seekers' travel costs if they need to attend more often than the fortnightly visit required to sign on, and revealed plans to provide a part-time 'work coach' to offer advice within the community.

The DWP's consultation document on the scheme states: "Our proposals will provide an estate that gives access to more employment opportunities for local claimants and allow us to achieve significant savings for the taxpayer."