The threat of compulsory redundancy given to hundreds of benefits staff today (6) is a "reckless and provocative" act, the Public and Commercial Services union says.
The news, broken on the Department for Work and Pensions staff internet to those affected in benefits processing and call centres, means 350 people could be forced out of their jobs at a time of consistently high unemployment and on the brink of another expected recession.
The redundancies affect staff in 13 of the 22 centres earmarked for closure earlier this year, most of which are due to shut between now and May 2012.
It does not include staff in 20 closure-threatened jobcentres or those in other areas of the department, including staff in DWP headquarters offices, so many more redundancies are likely.
The union says the decision to announce a formal consultation on the job cuts - the first mandatory step towards making compulsorily redundancies - without discussing other options with staff and the unions is a clear breach of procedures agreed with the Cabinet Office.
It also goes against assurances senior managers gave employment minister Chris Grayling and the unions at a meeting last month, where they said all staff will be redeployed.
Affected staff in the centres were not informed in advance of today's intranet announcement, meaning they learned of their potential fate online.
With 2.5 million people out of work, and unemployment expected to rise throughout 2012, the job cuts will simply add to delays in processing claims.
At the same time, managers have revealed they are recruiting staff in other benefits processing centres to cope with demand. The union has pledged to fight every job cut and wants to ensure work is shared across the sites at risk.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "With unemployment high and expected to rise, it is reckless and provocative to cut hundreds of jobs in our benefits system, particularly when there are centres that can't cope and are recruiting new staff.
"Ministers should immediately withdraw this threat and send work to the sites at risk to ensure we have a properly resourced service to help people who are finding themselves out of work through no fault of their own."
- The 13 centres affected are:
Midlands: Cannock, Mansfield and Sutton in Ashfield
North east: Castleford
North west: Huyton and Chester
Scotland: Ayr and Arbroath
South: Luton, Totton (Hants), Yeovil and Exeter
- For information and interview requests contact PCS national press officer Richard Simcox on 020 7801 2747 or 07833 978216
- The Public and Commercial Services union represents civil and public servants in central government. It has around 300,000 members in over 200 departments and agencies, and in parts of government transferred to the private sector. PCS is the UK's sixth largest union and is affiliated to the TUC. The general secretary is Mark Serwotka and the president is Janice Godrich - on Twitter @janicegodrich
- Follow PCS on Twitter @pcs_union