Covid Update - PCS demands response from DWP

06 Jan 2021

Members will be concerned about the ongoing developments with regard to the Covid 19 pandemic and the latest measures imposed by the various governments across the UK to deal with the situation.

Copied below is a letter sent by PCS yesterday to DWP Employee Relations, making a number of demands of the Department. It was sent following changes to restrictions in Scotland, and in anticipation of tighter controls being brought in for England and Wales. The announcement made by the Prime Minister on Monday evening confirmed that the UK would be moving back into lockdown conditions, very similar in most places, to those that we saw when a full lockdown was imposed in March 2020. As such we believe that DWP should now be reacting in the same way as it did at that time.

We are disappointed that the statement by the DWP Permanent Secretary, published on the DWP intranet, does not go far enough in providing assurance and protection for our members. It has left many questions unanswered, and generated a huge amount of enquiries for PCS reps.

PCS me with the Cabinet Office on Tuesday 5 January 2021, to discuss the wider implications for our members across the whole of the civil service. However, based on our previous negotiations at that level, we anticipate that much of the finer detail of what this will mean for our members in DWP will be left up to the Department itself. W will be following up our letter of yesterday with further correspondence to DWP updating our demands.

 

"In light of the announcement this afternoon by the First Minister of Scotland and the anticipated address by the Prime Minister this evening, PCS have received a number of enquiries from concerned members looking for advice and support.

We would therefore request the following are put in place with immediate effect.

1. Childcare 

As we pointed out in our last meeting prior to Christmas, the likely confusion and concern amongst staff with children has materialised out of fear for their children's safety.

In light of the announcement in Scotland and potential changes in England and Wales, PCS request the initial childcare policy agreed in the Spring 2020 is reinstated and replaces the current guidance on the intranet.

As schools are likely to be closed for a period of time, and other childcare arrangements are as likely to breakdown due to new restrictions, all staff who cannot work from home, or for whom it would no longer be possible to do so due to carer commitments, should be placed on paid special leave.

2. Scotland 

The First Minister has been explicit in her language this afternoon, declaring that anyone who can work from home "must" do so, rather than "should" as was previously the case. This very firm change in approach must be adhered to and all DWP staff, who can work from home must be exempt from attending the workplace immediately. A message should be issued to staff immediately by their home contact details as well as being placed on the intranet.

3. Jobcentres and Labour Market activity 

In light of the expected national lock down all Jobcentres, as a minimum, should immediately operate to the successful model introduced April-July, with offices being open to only the most vulnerable for face to face appointments.

In addition, an immediate request should be made to the minister for a suspension of all conditionality and sanction activity, as happened in April, with our priority being to get payments made to those who rely on the benefit system for financial support.

4. Other face to face activity 

All other planned face to face activity should be suspended until further notice. This should be for all fraud activity, including IUC's in CFCD and CMG, visiting and NINO interviews.

5. Working from Home

All staff with the necessary kit should be expected to work from home with immediate affect, and should not be expected or asked to enter the workplace.

6. Vulnerable staff/vulnerable relatives 

In order to limit the risk of spread of the virus, DWP should revert to the policies adopted in Spring 2020, with all Clinically Vulnerable and Clinically Extremely Vulnerable workers, including those identified as vulnerable by either the BAME risk assessment or indivudual risk assessments, being asked to exempt themselves from the workplace, either working from home or on paid special leave if this cannot be facilitated. Any staff who are the main or regular carer for someone who is either Clinically Extremely Vulnerable or Clinically Vulnerable should be allowed to work from home, or placed on paid special leave if they are unable to do so.

Greater emphasis should be placed on the importance of carrying out both the BAME and Individual risk assessments during this period.

7. Confirmed cases

Due to the increased virality of the latest Covid strain, all workplaces where there are confirmed cases should be closed immediately and deep cleaned, with staff at greater risk of coming in to contact with the infected colleague being told to self isolate for the appropriate 10 day period.

8. Saturday working 

In order that DWP can focus our response to this latest upsurge in infection, DWP should suspend working across 6 days a week in DWP workplaces and revert to Monday to Friday across all work groups. This should include the suspension of physically working overtime on DWP premises.

Staff contracted to work Saturday, should be allowed to work Monday to Friday instead, where it is safe to do so within allowable numbers, or offered the ability to work from home instead.

An urgent response is required and PCS will be happy to meet to discuss these proposals in more detail if that is necessary."

 

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