JOB centre staff in Blackburn on strike today over working conditions and customer service.

Up to 120 staff based at a call centre in Cardwell Place were set to walk out today, the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union said.

A total of 2,500 Job Centre Plus staff in the North West are likely to be involved, involving centres in Stockport, Blackpool, Bootle, Liverpool, Preston, Manchester and Wigan.

Workers are angry about a target-driven culture which forces them to limit calls from the public to five minutes or face disciplinary action.

The PCS union wants to improve the levels of customer service in call centres and “secure a greater degree of dignity” at work for its members.

In a ballot of the union's 7,000 Job Centre Plus members across 37 call centres, 70 per cent voted for strike action.

PCS regional secretary Peter Middleman said: "These call centres are the modern day equivalents of dark, satanic mills where our members are over worked, overly monitored and forced to endure an obsession with arbitrary targets which have nothing to do with providing a decent service to customers and which in practise have precisely the opposite effect.”"

The one-day strike will be followed by an indefinite overtime ban.

A DWP spokesman said: "We are disappointed that despite three-quarters of staff across the centres not voting to strike, the PCS has decided to take industrial action.

"The contact centre staff at DWP have good terms of employment, including generous holidays, and have a good amount of flexibility.

"But we have to ensure that our service is available when our customers, who include some of the most vulnerable people in the country, need us."

Staff working for walk-in Job Centre Plus centres in the area will be unaffected by the strike, as they work to different rules.