7 December 2021

PCS demands urgent meeting with permanent secretary over Omicron variant

The union says that the government must re-introduce working from home as a default position for civil servants across all departments.

In a letter to Alex Chisholm, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka highlights the fact, chief operating officers (COO) in the civil service have been told to "remove some or all measures associated with social distancing" in offices.

Officers were also told: "Depending on your risk assessments and the other mitigations you have in place, such as good ventilation, this could result in a substantial increase in capacity of the Government estate, and support increased levels of office-based attendance."

Mr Serwotka criticised the fact unions, including PCS, were not consulted and that due to high numbers of Covid, the presence of a highly contagious new variant and 19,000 deaths since "freedom day," any call for a return to offices was not warranted.

Mr Serwotka wrote: "It is not only H&S law that the Civil Service has sought to ignore but also the guidance and laws of the devolved administrations. Until a few days ago, the DWP was in wilful breach of Welsh risk assessment guidance and currently we are discussing with the same department its interpretation of Scottish guidance."

"Whilst we are waiting to learn how transmissible and dangerous it is [Omicron], and whether the current Covid vaccines are fully effective against it, the precautionary principle must be applied."

"Chief operating officers must be told that all staff should work from home where possible (which we know the bulk of staff can). For staff, such as those in the Court Service, who have been meeting members of the public, we should review as a matter of urgency how that interaction can be limited."

Mr Serwotka also insisted agency and facilities management staff should be sent home on full pay and where staff have to take sick leave due to Covid, they should receive full pay.

He concluded: "I would wish to discuss the above with you at a meeting. We believe that there should be a fundamental reset of how the Civil Service deals with the pandemic. It is not right that we lurch from crisis to crisis, with senior managers seeking, admittedly following the wishes of Ministers, to reduce safety measure prematurely when the objective circumstances do not warrant this."