22 July 2021

PCS stresses need for caution as Covid restrictions relaxed

Workers should not be forced back into offices and should work from home where possible, PCS has told the Cabinet Office as Covid restrictions ease across the UK.

Most remaining constraints in England were removed on Monday (19), while Scotland has moved to its lowest level of Covid controls. Restrictions are also being relaxed in Wales on 7 August and in Northern Ireland on 26 July.

As we are still in a pandemic, infections rates are increasing and it’s too soon to know how successful the vaccine rollout has been, we believe that all Covid safety measures should remain in place and no staff should be forced return to the office.

Many PCS members will be nervous and anxious about returning to the office, while many will be looking forward to it. Part of making a workplace safe for workers, whether at home or in the office, is ensuring that they have a supportive environment.

Throughout this pandemic, many employers have adopted guidance from public health authorities and BEIS on making workplaces ‘Covid secure’ but have been weak on health and safety standards.

The pandemic has very clearly demonstrated why we need trade union oversight on any changes taking place in workplaces, to identify risks and hold management to account on their statutory duties under law to provide a safe place to work.

We are fully aware that many members have attended their workplace for all or much of the pandemic.

Our position for these workers is that:

  • arrangements should continue to be rolled out to allow as many staff as possible to work from home
  • only staff doing absolutely crucial work which cannot be done from home should be in the workplace
  • all interactions with the public where feasible should be done remotely
  • where the public have to be met physically then appropriate protective measures must be put in place following a jointly agreed union/management risk assessment.

Working from home

In discussion with the Cabinet Office, on behalf of members working in the UK civil service and related bodies and some outsourced workers, on its latest guidance we have succeeded in removing a reference that raised the expectation that the great majority of staff would be back in the workplace, even if only for one day of week, by the end of summer.

But we still believe the guidance is not satisfactory and many departments and arm’s-length bodies expect staff will be back in the workplace, even if only for one day a week, by September.

We are also in discussions with private sector employers.

Risk assessment

We believe staff should not return to the workplace, unless for reasons of mental well-being or domestic reasons the balance of risk is against working at home.

We are opposed to arbitrary targets or dates or expectations for staff returning to the workplace and are pushing back on the expectation that staff will return in September. Our position is that there can be a review in September but we are clear that we must work from the data and not to dates.

For help contact your rep in the first instance – find their details by logging into PCS Digital – or for specific health questions email healthandsafety@pcs.org.uk

Members must have a better future

PCS is clear that there should be no headlong rush to return to the pre-pandemic world of work. The government says that it wants to "Build back better". We intend to hold them to that promise. The future must be one of maximum choice and flexibility for workers. Our members have kept vital public services running throughout this crisis. A better future must be their reward.

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