We wrote to the HMCTS chief executive officer on 2 July seeking agreement to the PCS national 5 tests for safe working. We received a response on 3 August and we are dismayed and alarmed to report that HMCTS does not agree the PCS 5 tests. Read the summary of the response.
Test 1- No wider return until communities are safe:
We recognise that a number of members have continued to attend the workplace throughout the lockdown period but it is our view that agreement to this test would ensure those able to remote work could continue to do so and would ensure the continuation of rosters. HMCTS claims that is has and continues to follow advice from Public Health England, Public Health Wales and Public Health Scotland, and its approach has directly reflected the government guidance. This has not been evidenced to us and fails to address the demand we put to HMCTS that there should be no wider return to workplaces until transmission of Covid-19 has reduced significantly.
Test 2- Workplaces must only be for essential work:
HMCTS responded to advise that in line with government guidance it is ensuring that individuals are only asked to come into the workplace to carry out work that cannot be undertaken remotely. HMCTS does not agree that only essential work should be undertaken and has continued to state the view that as much work as possible can continue. We are continuing to press the employer to increase remote working arrangements and ensure that workplaces are Covid-19 secure.
Test 3- Workplaces must be safe places:
The response confirmed ‘complete agreement’ that workplaces must be safe. HMCTS advised that they have put in place a robust and comprehensive approach to assessing risks through the organisational risk assessment, the local assessment tool and the development of working safely guides. Members will already be aware that none of these documents have been agreed or signed off by PCS as they are wholly insufficient and unsuitable. The point that there must be a union-agreed Covid-19 risk assessment has been completely ignored. In any event our appointed health and safety representatives are, in a number of locations, being bypassed or ignored in relation to observations they are making. PCS has escalated these matters to the senior negotiating team to raise with the Cabinet Office.
Test 4- Staff must be individually assessed:
HMCTS continues to maintain that there is no requirement to undertake individual risk assessments and instead insists that ‘keeping in touch’ arrangements that have been implemented are suitable and adequate. We have robustly disputed this approach and continue to demand that individuals are risk assessed to ensure that they are safe in the workplace, that the role and activities are safe and that workspaces are safe and present no risks. It is disappointing to report that HMCTS has bypassed the route of individual risk assessments in favour of a wholly inadequate process. Members will be aware that the chief people officer published the MOJ position confirming commitment to individual risk assessments. We have challenged HMCTS on why its approach directly conflicts with that published by the MOJ and an update will be issued once a response is received.
Test 5- outbreaks must be controlled:
It is claimed that HMCTS has a clear policy for dealing with any outbreaks, which strictly follows Public Health and Government guidance and have ensured that these protocols have been implemented immediately. We have examples where HMCTS are failing in their duty of care by not following the test, track and trace system appropriately and have made challenges. Furthermore, PCS has repeatedly asked for a meeting with a view to an agreed approach to suspected and confirmed Covid-19 cases on HMCTS premises. PCS maintains that in such circumstances the workplace should be closed and it should not be reopened in whole or in part until the requirements of that risk assessment have been fully met and it is agreed by our health and safety representatives that it is safe to do so.
Advice to members:
PCS is continuing to make robust representations and challenges on the urgent need to agree the PCS 5 tests to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our members in workplaces. All members are reminded of the individual advice issued to personal email addresses on 15 May.
We will continue to report progress.