PCS has set out demands to the Home Office to change work plans to protect staff safety, in light of the new coronavirus lockdown.
PCS is pressing the Home Office to change its work plans in light of rising COVID cases and a new lockdown. We have set out a number of demands we want Home Office to follow to protect staff:
- All staff included in phases 3 and 4 of the Home Office return to work RTW) plans need to be told to work from home and limit travel. There also needs to be a full re-examination of all staff covered by Phases 1 and 2 of the RTW Protocols to establish with individuals whether their attendance at work is critical and to ensure the minimum necessary workplace attendance.
- All extremely vulnerable and vulnerable civil servants, and those who look after household members in these categories, should be allowed to work from home. If this is not possible then they should be put on special leave with pay. They should not be required to attend the workplace.
- A revision of current policy on school closures so that Home Office so that affected staff can be given WFH opportunities or receive paid S/L if they have to undertake childcare.
- A review of all national and building Risk Assessments and Safe Systems of Work should be carried out in conjunction with PCS representatives to ensure they are fit for purpose following this significant increase in cases. In particular, this should focus on workplace/building occupancy levels and office attendance/shift patterns as well as enhanced cleaning regimes.
- A general instruction to be issued that all Home Office meetings and training courses should move online, and that where this is not possible, the meetings/courses should be postponed until March 2021 at the earliest. This should include Personal Safety Training where temporary extensions to those ‘out of ticket’ should be granted as they were in April 2020.
- Travel on official business/duty should be kept to a minimum (critical work only) and the relevant SSOWs should be amended to ensure that wherever possible official vehicle usage is confined to single occupancy (never more than 2 people).
It’s clear that the government has lost control of the virus resulting in the new national lockdown. The Home Office can therefore not simply try to continue as they have over recent months. There needs to be urgent action to revise workplace plans and staff numbers.
We welcome the global message from the permanent secretary setting out those in phases 2, 3 and 4 of the Home Office return to work plans should now work remotely. However the Home Office need to go further and be clear in their instructions. Despite the message coming out from the centre we already know staff part of phase 3 are still being asked to attend offices over the next week. This may only be for a day or two but it still seems to fly in the face of the central message. Additionally the work being performed by staff part of phase 1 needs to be reviewed to see if numbers can be reduced. It is not acceptable to simply say you were part of phase 1 so you must still come in to work as normal while the lockdown is on.
PCS is also disappointed that the Home Office have indicated staff who are in the critically vulnerable category should still come into workplaces. We know these staff are at greater risk to fight the virus. They should not be exposed to this risk by coming into workplaces. This also applies to staff who live with and/or care for household members in the ECV or CV category. It makes a mockery of the individual risk assessments if people set out their conditions and the risks but Home Office still insist people still come into workplaces exposing them to more risk of transmission.
On top of the demands we’ve set out above we have made it clear to the Home Office they need to be pressing the government hard to restrict travel, including international travel. A reduction on the number of flights, ships and train entering and leaving the UK would reduce the numbers of staff required at the borders helping towards avoiding exposure to the virus for members and the wider public. Additionally, a reduction of international travel would limit the necessity for passports which could reduce the demand on HMPO, in turn allowing for a reduced number in passport offices.
There also needs to be full testing of all arrivals at every port and airport so that anyone travelling into the UK is tested and anyone leaving also has proof they have been tested and are negative.
It is imperative the Home Office take action now to address the demands PCS have been making over mass testing of staff. Full testing of staff regularly coming onto workplace needs to be introduced, as per the Dover pilot, as soon as possible within the parameters called for by PCS. This is the most effective way of avoiding transmission for staff coming into workplaces.
While PCS recognises all Home Office staff are key workers and perform important roles this does not mean every role is critical and needs to be performed from a Home Office workplace. We are aware that many members are receiving letters stating they are classed as CRITICAL WORKERS and as such they need to attend their workplace. Additionally, those with children at school are being told to put them into school. PCS strongly object to the Home Office apparent misuse of the critical worker status in order to get members into offices and children into schools. This blanket classification of staff as critical workers is all about maintaining productivity levels rather than regard for the safety of staff, children and teachers. Staff should not be made to put their children into schools with the risk this exposes them and teacher to. PCS is demanding a full assessment of each role to be undertaken to determine if it is genuinely critical or not to be in a workplace.
If you have any safety concerns contact your line manager in the first instance and notify your local PCS representative.
You should complete the Individual Risk Indicator form and have a conversation with your line manager. Set out any health issues and other safety concerns. If your manager still insists you need to be in the office and you feel you are in serious and imminent danger then you can find advice online.