Dole office screens to be removed despite fears of staff
GLASS security screens will be removed at dole offices despite growing fears among staff of threats and abuse.
The Department of Social Protection has won a battle to install screenless counters in reception areas with the aim of making workers seem more open and approachable.
An independent adjudicator has given Minister Joan Burton the green light to push ahead with the plan.
The screenless desks are part of the Government's plan to roll out a new National Employment and Entitlements Service.
The offices will offer employment services as well as paying benefits, and 14 of them will be in operation before the end of the year.
However, staff are strongly opposed to the move to screenless desks and have argued that it puts their safety at risk.
Workers at four offices have voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action if the screens are removed at "high risk" offices.
The Department of Social Protection said the "physical environment" in the new unemployment advisory service has a "critical role to play in framing the relationship between our staff and our clients".
"It is the department's belief that this type of service is best provided in an environment where physical barriers between staff and clients are mini-mised," said a spokesperson.
She said four offices -- at Parnell Street in Dublin, Arklow, Sligo and Tallaght -- will have screenless reception desks but screens would not be removed from other desks at this stage.
Panic buttons and CCTV have been installed at many of the social welfare offices, which are also manned by security guards.
However, there have been reports of violent incidents at a minority of the offices.
Recent incidents included a man pouring a can of petrol over the counter of a social welfare office and threatening to set the place alight.
In another case, a worker in another office had to undergo HIV tests and vaccinations for hepatitis after being spat on by a homeless woman.