PCS stresses worker safety paramount as employers draw up return to work plans

28 Jul 2020

We have called on all government departments to properly consult PCS over safe working before submitting plans to get more people back into their workplaces.

PCS had talks with the Cabinet Office yesterday evening to discuss civil service chief executive Alex Chisholm’s letter instructing departments that it is time to change the default position that civil servants should work from home and that they should look to accelerate the return to the workplace from 1 August.

We are opposed to this change of position as the scientific advice has not changed; it still remains that members should work at home where they can.

On 16 July, Sir Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, told the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee:

"Of the various distancing measures, working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it's easy to do,” he said.

“I think 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."

Need for proper consultation

Given that the civil service wants all departments to submit their return-to-the workplace plans tomorrow (29) it is not possible for substantive consultation to be had. Therefore, we asked that departments be told not to submit their plans until the unions had been properly consulted.

Along with that we asked for a guarantee that our members will not be instructed to return to the workplace if they can work from home or for a medical reason they should stay at home.

In reply, the Cabinet Office stated that the 29 July plans were not fixed and that they could be changed after the fact through consultation with the unions.

The government’s own website advice also continues to advise people to work from home wherever they can. It does say, with regard to England only, “From 1 August, subject to rates of transmission closer to the time…employers will have more discretion, in consultation with their employees, on how to ensure people can work safely – working from home is one way to do this, but workplaces can also be made safe by following Covid-19 secure guidelines.” 

While there will be further Cabinet Office talks, across departments PCS will be seeking firm commitments in relation to members’ safety in line with our 5 tests for safe working.

Over the past months many departmental leaders have said that working from home is the default position; nobody will be forced to return to the office and that nobody would be asked to return to office working for the foreseeable future. We will ask them to recommit themselves to these promises despite the CEO’s letter.   

If you’re a PCS member get help and advice by contacting your local rep, or our coronavirus response centre, or emailing responseteam@pcs.org.uk where we will be able to advise you about your options.

We will issue more advice next week and you can get more guidance and support, and get your questions answered, at our Facebook live event at 7pm on Thursday (30). Email your question to editor@pcs.org.uk

Over the next few months all members might face being told to go to the workplace. So joining PCS is more vital than ever.

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