Plymouth Jobcentre security staff face death threats and being spat on

Phillip Coker, centre, a security guard and GMB shop steward, with striking security staff at a picket outside the Old Tree Court Jobcentre in Exeter Street, Plymouth
Phillip Coker, centre, a security guard and GMB shop steward, with striking security staff at a picket outside the Old Tree Court Jobcentre in Exeter Street, Plymouth -Credit:Submitted

Security staff at a Plymouth Jobcentre say they have been spat on and are threatened with violence on a weekly basis and yet are paid only minimum wage. The litany of abuse has been revealed as security guards formed a picket line outside the Jobcentre in the city centre as part of a long-running dispute over pay.

Members of the GMB union have been on strike for the past two days in a dispute with employer G4S and the Government. There are more strike days planned for the rest of this month with more than 1,000 security staff taking part nationally.

In Plymouth, all seven security guards at the Old Tree Court Jobcentre, in Exeter Street, took industrial action, and said it resulted in the Jobcentre being closed for two days. They said they have had enough of low pay, especially as they face threats from members of the public on a regular basis.

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Even while on the picket line, someone threw a vape at the striking workers from a passing car, although most passers-by were supportive, union officials said. But such aggressive behaviour is minor compared to what the security staff are faced with while at work.

“Personally I have had to take weapons off people, been spat at and abused,” said Phillip Coker, a security guard at the Old Tree Court Jobcentre. “People have threatened to kill me, threatened to kill my family and threatened to burn the place down - that was all in the past two weeks alone. It happens on a weekly basis.”

He added: “The Jobcentre is here to help people in difficulty, so why would they threaten to kill someone? It’s frustration. This country is more and more frustrated, angry and anxious - it’s crazy.

“And we are in the frontline. People’s frustrations and anger boil over, if they can’t get what they want. And the decision makers are nowhere near the public, so there is frustration over the time it takes to make decisions and we have to deal with that.”

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Mr Coker, a former soldier, has been a security guard at the Jobcentre for four years and is a GMB shop steward. He stressed all the security personnel at the Jobcentre are SIA (Security Industry Authoriry0licenced and have first aid qualifications too. He said: “We have had some people collapse.”

The GMB said a survey of its members found that four out of five had been the victim of abuse in their jobs, including being attacked by dogs, and punched by members of the public.

Many described verbal abuse on a daily basis, including threats to their families, racist abuse and death threats.

Security guards working for G4S on a contract from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are in dispute over a cost-of-living increase dating from 2022/23 which the GMB union says has still not been finalised. G4S made a final offer in December 2023 which was rejected by union members in January.

The GMB claims that 90% of security guards working on a contract with the Department for Work and Pensions are now on the national living wage. Mr Coker said: “How many people would be happy to be spat at for minimum wage? Our money has gone down in real terms. In 2007, an hour's wage would buy 14 cans of beans, now it will buy seven cans of beans, so in real terms we are getting half of what we did then.”

Paul Meddes, A GMB officer, joined the Plymouth picket and said: “Someone threw a vape at us from a moving car - that’s not particularly good. But otherwise we have been well received by people.”

Further strikes will take place on May 20, 28 and 29. G4S has said it is disappointed the GMB refused to take what it called an improved pay offer to their members. It said the company is continuing to try to reach an amicable agreement with the union, and had implemented contingency plans to minimise disruption to its customer: the DWP.