To update members within Criminal Casework (CC) on the current return to workplace pressures within CC and offer supportive advice.
On 13 November Criminal Casework (CC) communicated to its staff that all staff would be required to return to work at least one day per week. As a result PCS met with the head of CC on 19 November 2020 to voice our concerns about this move.
We were informed first that the guidance on returning staff to work was a Home Office wide policy, and secondly that some staff had shown worrying reductions in performance of late, and this move was in order to address this. We were informed that the current situation in CC was therefore unsustainable. Their proposal was for managers to speak to staff on a one to one basis to try and address problems before any return. PCS’ challenges of the proposed return were dismissed based upon these grounds.
PCS sees the move to return CC staff to work as in direct conflict with government guidance (especially during a national lockdown and restrictions) that those who can work from home should work from home. There are clearly many areas of CC where the work can be undertaken effectively from home. Our concerns have been raised with the Permanent Secretary at a national level. Furthermore there are many staff (and many shielding family members) whose medical conditions and situations mean they are at higher risk of infection and at higher risk of serious consequences should they return. There seems little business reason to bring all staff back regardless of circumstances. During the previous 8 months we had been told that there were multiple areas of CC where performance figures had improved since working from home began; so to suddenly learn that performance had reduced not only flew in the face of previous statements, but also begged the question why individuals whose performance may have allegedly worsened were not being managed properly by their line managers rather than put other staff at risk.
PCS has consistently pressed the case for those members who, due to ethnicity, disability or age, are more vulnerable to contracting CV19, to be adequately supported in any return to work considerations. This includes members within this cohort who are additionally within the CV category for health reasons. Members for whom these considerations apply should ask for Covid Individual Risk Assessment (CIRI) and a Workplace Stress Assessment to be carried out in relation to any return to work process being required of them.
Members who remain in the ECV category should have received updated shielding letters to support them in continuing to work from home.
PCS members need to consider several things. If they have health issues that require addressing before returning to work then an OHS referral, plus an individual risk assessment may be appropriate. Members may also need to know what specific measures are in place to protect them and have sight of Risk Assessments and Safe Systems of Working for their specific work location. If these documents do not address their concerns then they should request the measures detailed above to be put into place to address their individual medical issues. If staff are shielding medically vulnerable family members then reasonable time needs to be given to put in place alternative arrangements.
Finally, PCS will continue to challenge the decisions made and will ask for statistical evidence that the return to work has any real impact on performance levels. We will keep members informed throughout.