PCS has reiterated that the safety of members is our priority as we oppose government plans to get 80% of civil servants in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September.
We have been informed that permanent secretaries have been told to greatly increase the number of staff in workplaces. The government claims sending tens of thousands of civil servants back to their buildings by the end of the month would be “hugely beneficial”.
As we understand it, departments which have not staffed offices up to the so-called Covid safe limits must now seek to do so. This must be done in a supposedly Covid-secure way, taking advantage of the return to schools this month and increased public transport availability.
Moreover departments are being strongly encouraged to use staff rota systems to get more staff into the workplace over the week, for example 20% for five days, 30% for three days and 30% for two days.
Departments have been set a target of 80% of staff in England to attend their usual workplace each week by the end of September. Staff elsewhere in the UK are expected to follow local guidance and continue working from home.
We understand the prime minister has asked to see departmental return to the workplace figures on a weekly basis.
PCS 5 tests
We are assured that staff safety remains the government's "paramount concern", and that workplace returns will be discussed with unions. Our negotiators will be meeting with the Cabinet Office and departmental heads to talk them through the PCS 5 tests for safe working and asking them to justify their plans to increase workplace staff numbers against each of our tests.
Our members have kept the country running during the pandemic while working from home and we believe it is not safe to return to workplaces while Covid-19 infection rates remain high and given the likelihood of a second wave in the coming weeks.
We are asking departments to provide, as a matter of urgency, for each building the Covid-secure limit, current staffing in each building and current risk assessment for each building.
PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said: “If the government or any employer starts forcing people back to work and we believe that it is not safe to do so we will firstly consider our legal options, secondly give individual legal advice, and thirdly consider whether a collective response is required.
“As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.”
Our national executive committee meets on Wednesday (9) and will decide how to respond. We will issue further advice following that meeting.
Our advice to members is 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.