Cabinet Office must send clear work from home message

03 Nov 2020

PCS says it is completely unacceptable that the Cabinet Office continues to fail to give a clear statement that civil servants who can work from home should do so and calls for jobcentres and courts to close and driving tests to be suspended.

With an impending lockdown in England and with greater restrictions already in place across the UK, PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka has written to Mervyn Thomas, Cabinet Office executive director for employee and trade union relations, to call for clarity from his department following the prime minister’s statement on Saturday (31) that: The single most important action we can all take, in fighting coronavirus, is to stay at home, to protect the NHS and save lives.”

Mark said that the government guidance is clear – if you can work from home, you must do so. We therefore call upon the Cabinet Office to issue a direction across the civil service and its related areas to that effect.

Furthermore, given the critical nature of the situation, it is illogical that the measures announced are not accompanied by a direction to close workplaces such as jobcentres and courts to the public.  We believe that those services should now be provided digitally and by phone.  We also believe that driving tests should be suspended. 

Greater risk

With regard to people more at risk from coronavirus, we have sought assurances that no worker in the civil service and its related areas who is either over 60, clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable, will be asked to attend a workplace. And in the event that their current role does not enable them to work from home and if suitable work cannot be found for them that they are able to perform from home, they will be placed on paid special leave.

Sick pay

Financial protections for contractors providing services to government projects have ended, resulting in contractors telling their staff that self-isolation will be paid at statutory sick pay (£95.85 a week) and that Covid-related sick pay will be the same. Of course, not all staff are eligible for SSP so the decision not to extend this contractor relief means some staff face the prospect of no pay if they self-isolate or take Covid-related sick pay.

By ending contractor relief the civil service is essentially condemning workers, many of whom are black and minority ethnic who are already on minimum terms and conditions, to abject poverty if they contract Covid or are told to self-isolate. That is wrong and must be changed.

Companies providing agency workers have also been told those workers who self-isolate/take Covid-related sick leave will also be on SSP – if they are eligible. Again, we call upon the Cabinet Office to change this and ensure that agency staff are paid full wages if they self-isolate or take Covid-related sick leave.       

We are meeting with the Cabinet Office again on Thursday (5).

If you have concerns about workplace safety contact your PCS rep or our coronavirus response team.

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