25 school leavers from the North-West started work at the DWP in Birchwood last year on the Cabinet Offices flagship Higher Apprenticeship scheme. This scheme takes young people, often upon leaving school or college, and employs them as permanent civil servants, putting them through a wide range of training with them electing a specialism.
These staff were told they would be based from Birchwood, Warrington for the duration of their apprentiships and consequently made plans to live in the vicinity, many of them locals.
DWP management then proceeded to tell them that because they have changed their minds as to where the work will be based, all 25 would now be compulsorily moved to Leeds and if they did not accept they would be at risk of losing their jobs.
No real justification has been provided for the move of workplace, as many currently work between alternating locations. Digital jobs, the specialist stream the apprentices currently work in, continue to be advertised at Birchwood. There are also other alternative apprenticeships available in the North West that have not even been offered to the staff.
Unfortunately, due to the changes in the mobility policy imposed from 2013, staff employed after October of that year can be required to move their job at the will of the employer. PCS negotiators have argued that expenses for the move should still be met, and reasonable notice should be given, if the move is absolutely necessary and reasonable, which in this case we don’t believe it to be.
Many of the apprentices are local 18 to 19 year olds for which this is their first job. They haven’t received an apology and have been met with unfair and inappropriate treatment by DWP management seemingly because of their age.
This is a flagship scheme that comes from the Cabinet Office itself. Its aim is to recruit young people for a career in the civil service, and to develop in-house specialist skills, in areas such as digitalisation, that the civil service needs to develop. The appalling treatment of these staff by DWP management is not consistent with a scheme that is intended to encourage young people into a worthwhile career in public-service.
The unjustified decision and inappropriate treatment has caused these staff untold stress. Many of them have dependants, caring responsibilities and families locally that they are being forced to leave. Equally, almost all will undergo financial hardship as a consequence of any move and have been offered no financial assistance.
The local PCS branch, DWP Cheshire, has provided assistance and support to the apprentices, and gained the attention of the local press to highlight the plight of the staff affected. The DWP GEC has pushed for proper consultation and discussion over alternatives to the compulsory transfer, including raising the matter as Civil Service level due to the high profile of the recruitment scheme. Unfortunately DWP management have refused to halt the process, have not met with the departmental trade union side, and continue to tacitly endorse the poor treatment of the apprentices.
The DWP GEC agreed in January to offer full support to the apprentices, and the branch, in campaigning against the compulsory transfer and ill treatment of young members.
As part of the campaign, there is an online petition asking that DWP management withdraw all 25 compulsory moves and permits these staff to continue their apprentiships in Birchwood as agreed. Members are encouraged to sign it here.