The union has demanded that the government reinstate home working across the civil service in line with current scientific advice that homeworking has worked well during the ongoing Corona pandemic.
PCS had received a letter from the Cabinet Office demanding a widespread return to work from 3 August, which was at odds with Boris Johnson’s own press conference where he stated:
“…We are going to give employers more discretion, and ask them to make decisions about how their staff can work safely. That could mean of course continuing to work from home, which is one way of working safely and which has worked for many employers and employees. Or it could mean making workplaces safe by following Covid secure guidelines. Whatever employers decide, they should consult closely with their employees, and only ask people to return to their place of work if it is safe.”
However, according to the letter from the Cabinet Office, there was no suggestion that working from home was an option.
And ministers have failed to provide scientific evidence to support abandoning home working which was a default for the whole civil service.
Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s own chief scientific adviser, previously told a House of Commons committee:
“Of the various distancing measures, working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it's easy to do. "..A number of companies think [homeworking] is actually not detrimental to productivity. And in that situation, there's absolutely no reason I can see to change it.”
Across England local lockdowns have been introduced due to spikes in Covid cases and the prime minister has gone on record saying: “With those numbers creeping up...we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.”
He has also said that his advice on returning to work was conditional on transmission rates of Covid rather than whether workplaces were “Covid safe.”
PCS believes the Cabinet Office advice goes against the principles of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. The more staff required to travel to, and work, onsite, means there is a greater risk to those staff and to other members of the workforce and wider society they inevitably encounter.
To add insult to injury the Cabinet Office have not compelled individual departments to negotiate with the union, disregarding basic health and safety law.
We will continue to press for full consultation on health and safety assessments and for ministers to reinstate homeworking until it is safe for civil servants to return to the workplace.
Our advice to members is clear, if you are working from home and you get approached by anyone in your department asking you to now go back to work, don’t just accept that’s what you have to do.