COVID-19 Home Office response to further lockdown measures

06 Nov 2020

PCS Home Office group has written to the Permanant Secretary and Second Permanant Secretary.

"Dear Matthew and Shona,

COVID-19 Home Office response to further lockdown measures

We are writing this open letter on behalf of the PCS union Home Office group in regard to the Prime Ministers’ announcement on 4 November and the parliamentary debate introducing a second lockdown in England, following measures already brought in for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to control the coronavirus.

In our letter of the 23 September PCS set out several measures we wanted to see the Home Office take immediately to help in the national effort of reducing the infection rates at the time. These included:

  1. An immediate halt of phase 3 and 4 of the Home Office return to work RTW) plans. No further sign off for directorates to increase numbers of staff coming into workplaces
  2. If staff can work from home, they should be instructed to do so (unless for personal reasons where working from home would pose more of a health risk as per Phase 2 of the RTW Protocol).
  3. Move back to phases 1 and 2 of the Home Office RTW Protocol where only work agreed as critical with the union that can’t be performed at home is undertaken in workplaces. Accordingly, we expect to see an immediate reduction in numbers coming in offices and other work locations.
  4. Anyone who has concerns about being in a workplace to be allowed to work from home with appropriate equipment and work provided. No-one should be coerced in to travelling to a workplace if they have safety concerns.
  5. All extremely vulnerable and vulnerable civil servants, and those who look after relatives in these categories, should be allowed to home work. If this is not possible then they should be put on special leave with pay. They should not be asked to be in the workplace.

It’s now clear that the Government strategy has once again failed in restricting the spread of the Coronavirus. However, if the measures PCS proposed had been implemented, we are confident that this would have helped in bring the reproduction numbers down. The Home Office refusal to take these practical and necessary steps has contributed to an increase in the spread of the virus which has now led the government to impose harsher restrictions and a second lockdown.

It was therefore mystifying to see the recent global message to staff and updated FAQ’s indicating very little change in the Home Office approach to support the national effort to bring the reproduction number and growth rate of coronavirus under control. In fact, Home Office plans would see more staff being expected to come into workplaces putting them, other staff and the wider community at more risk potentially prolonging the lockdown.

In the Global email to staff the Home Office failed to flag that on the eve of lockdown the rules were altering so that Clinically Vulnerable staff could be required to return to the office, even where they can work productively from home. This has resulted in some confusion due to this failure to be explicit regarding the unpalatable changes that have been made.

The Government instruction around lockdown is that those who can work from home, must work from home – self-evidently if the Home Office has identified staff whose roles are covered by phases 3 and 4 of the Return to Work protocols then it has already been accepted that they can work from home and they should not now be required to return to the office at a time when the virus rates are increasing.

The Home Office must therefore act now and bring about the measures PCS have called for in our September letter.

Further we wish to raise a number of points with regards to the latest FAQ’s issued on 31 October:

  • Mistruth around COVID-secure workplaces

Throughout the FAQ’s and in other messaging to staff the Home Office claim all workplaces are COVID-secure. This is plainly untrue as we’ve seen the virus spread in workplaces and colleagues contracting the virus whilst attending their workplace. PCS therefore call on Home Office to cease using the term ‘COVID-secure workplaces’. We ask for ‘COVID-adapted workplaces’ to be used instead which is a more accurate and truthful term to use.

  • Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland staff overlooked

Within the FAQ’s in relation to staff working in Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland it repeatedly states There are currently separate restrictions in place for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Colleagues living or working in those countries should look out for any further announcements which affect them. Without telling these staff what the differences are that apply to them. This is totally unacceptable. Any differences for staff wherever they live should be clearly set out in the FAQ’s. We demand that the FAQ’s are amended to include what is applied to staff no matter if they work in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England. Any differences for each nation or any local regional differences should be clearly set out in the FAQ’s so all staff know what should apply to them.  

  • Clinically extremely vulnerable

PCS welcome that staff deemed clinically extremely vulnerable will be told to work from home and that if that is not possible, they will be awarded paid special leave instead. However, we believe this should be extended to staff living with someone defined as   clinically extremely vulnerable if they have concerns about coming into their place of work.

  • Clinically vulnerable

The updated FAQ’s tell clinically vulnerable staff to come into workplaces despite the new lockdown measures and heightened risk. This now applies to clinically vulnerable staff who have been working effectively from home. This will increase numbers in workplaces. PCS find this unacceptable especially at this time.

We demand that FAQs are reversed and that the Clinically Vulnerable are not required to return to the workplace and provided with the means, if not already in place, to work from home. 

As a minimum PCS ask for assurances all clinically vulnerable staff will be afforded a hearing with their line manager to discuss any concerns and a union rep will be permitted to attend. Further we call for managers to be supported in taking a sympathetic and compassionate approach to staff. We ask for assurance that no pressure will be put on managers who decide it best for a member of staff to work from home or be at home without work with pay, if no suitable work is available.

  • Temperature checks and testing

We once again appeal to the Home Office to introduce routine temperature checks on staff and the public, that’s common practice elsewhere, for anyone entering Home Office buildings/workplaces. This would be a further practical step to potentially identify people carrying the virus and prevent them entering to help avoid the spread of the virus in workplaces.

Staff regularly coming into workplaces Home Office should be encouraged to get tested regularly and giving paid time off to attend test centres if necessary. There are pilots for mass and regular testing taking place across whole city regions. Home Office should be engaging with these projects and supporting staff to get regular tests.

Finally PCS intend to write to the Home Office separately with proposals for measures to recognise the work of staff who’ve been consistently in work throughout the pandemic.  

We look forward to a swift response to the points above.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Jones                 James Cox                 Pete Wright                            Martin Andrews

Group Secretary        Group President        Group Vice President             Group H&S lead"

 

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