14 July 2021

Guidance for Home Office members on the end of Covid restrictions

In advance of the changes from 19 July, read our health and safety guidance and advice.

Members will be aware of the UK Prime Minister’s announcement that from 19 July the current Covid restrictions and protections in England will end.  At a meeting with the Cabinet Office on 8 July our national executive committee made the following demands:

  • National law and guidance in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland must be followed
  • There must be no arbitrary targets or dates for staff to return to workplaces
  • Departments and agencies must consult the unions in advance of any plan for staff possibly returning to the workplace
  • Social distancing must remain in place; face-coverings should be used in communal areas and in any setting, they are currently being used; existing screens should remain in place
  • Proper ventilation is vital in buildings and unions must be reassured on this before any return to the workplace
  • Vulnerable employees, including those not vaccinated, to remain working at home unless on the balance of risk (impact on their mental wellbeing of working from home) it would be better for them to return to the workplace
  • Risk assessments, both individual and collective, should include travel to work and must be undertaken in advance of staff returning to the workplace
  • In multi-occupied buildings/sites, health and safety arrangements must be put into place to ensure that the unions are properly consulted at a building/site wide level as to all aspects of health and safety regarding a return to the workplace. This means PCS in those buildings/sites must work together as one body.

We recognise everyone wants to get back to some kind of normal and many members will be keen to be back in workplaces, but this must be done in a way that protects all staff. Despite the government’s announcement, at a time when Covid-19 infection rates are on a steep upward trajectory now is not the time to relax restrictions and caution must be applied. To end restrictions on 19 July as the government has suggested will not be ‘freedom day’ for us but freedom for the virus to spread further, putting countless more lives at risk.

Home Office position

We are awaiting proposals from the department about how or if things will be changing next week and expect an announcement imminently.  However, we are aware that in several areas, managers have been very keen to inform staff that they have to return to the office next Monday.  This is unacceptable given the lack of guidance from the Cabinet Office, BEIS and the Home Office.  We must stress that position has not changed, and the guidance remains the same.  Some members have reported that they have been told that they must work 50% in the office under ‘hybrid working’ processes, however the draft guidance on horizon is quite clear that this is something to work towards in October and not something to be implemented immediately.

We have written to the permanent secretary setting out our position on the removal of protections in England.  In this letter we noted the increased transmission rates, hospitalisations, and continuing deaths.  We are aware of increased cases in workplaces and growing numbers having to self-isolate.  This is not a situation where we need to reduce restrictions.  Our demands are that the current Covid adaptions to workplaces, including social distancing, plastic screens, provision of cleaning equipment and increased cleaning regimen are maintained.

We believe that we should remain with only phase 1 and 2 staff in the office.  These are members where they cannot work from home or that need to attend for wellbeing reasons.  We already have large numbers of members in the office, they should not see the protections that they have had in place eroded as managers try to squeeze more people in.

Advice for members

As noted above – the guidance hasn’t changed.  So managers should not be telling members currently working from home that they should plan to return to the office next Monday.  There have been no new risk assessments produced and no new safer systems of work completed.

Any proposed increase in numbers in any building/workplace or reduction in social distancing needs to be properly assessed for risks.  Anyone asked to return to the office should have an individual risk assessment completed by their line manager and if the Covid adaptions are removed from offices, all staff in workplaces need to have revised and updated individual risk assessments.

 In many workplaces there are already staff attending but an increase in numbers will bring significant risks. If you are concerned about coming into a workplace where numbers are increasing, whether you've been working from home or have already been attending the workplace, then you should request to see a copy of the building risk assessment and safe system of work and ask if it has been signed off by PCS. You have a right to see this before you agree to attend your workplace. If there is anything in the risk assessment that is of concern or you think is missing please notify your line manager immediately and contact your local PCS rep. You should also have an individual risk assessment that includes an assessment of the risk of your travel into work.

The health and safety of our members at work or working from home is of paramount importance to PCS.  Please ensure you follow guidance and raise concerns with your local reps if there are problems.