Civil servants at the Department for Work and Pensions have claimed that they were told to pretend to be answer phones by their bosses, as they battled to deal with the high volume of calls during a national strike.
The civil servants, based in Carlisle, allege that between 12PM to 2PM on Monday they were ordered to respond to any callers with the message: “Due to the high volume of enquiries we are currently experiencing, we are unable to take your call.”
The outrageous claim came to light on Facebook, where it has been widely discussed, but workers have since contacted the News & Star to share further details.
One worker said: "To start with, we all found it hard to keep a straight face. But we were told to do this. Occasionally, I slipped up and gave my name to the person who was calling. I believe the idea was that we would have difficulty coping because of the strike, but it just seems like a silly way to handle it.
"We were asking why they didn't just prepare a proper answerphone message saying we couldn't answer calls because of the industrial action. It just seemed wrong to hang up on people."
The strike action took place on Monday and Tuesday this week, in response to changes to the civil service redundancy terms, with the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) estimating that more than 200,000 employees walked out during the first day of the strike.
Jennifer Wright, a branch organiser for the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) told the News & Star: “Pretending to be an answering machine is hardly good customer service.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: "Due to a high volume of customer calls between 12pm and 2pm, some customers were asked to call back after 2pm. Otherwise, the majority of our customers had their calls and requests dealt with immediately and in the usual manner."