Union opposes move to force civil servants back to the office

A leading union is telling civil servants not to feel forced back to work due to political pressure following Boris Johnson’s speech on returning to the office.

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The leading union representing civil servants has told members not to let themselves be forced back to the office unless their safety is ensured.

The Public and Commercial Services Union has told the Cabinet Office that it is not prepared to accept attempts to force more civil servants back into work without detailed assurances about how their safety will be ensured if they have to return to their workplace.

The head of the civil service Alex Chisholm wrote to all permanent secretaries last week to say that after Boris Johnson’s speech urging people back into work the civil service needed to see an acceleration of people returning to work by early August.

The PCS says it told the Cabinet Office that this was completely unacceptable as it is not based on health and safety or on helping the economy, but is “based entirely on political pressure being exerted by some Tory MPs who are demanding that the civil service is used as an example to get everybody back to work”.

The PCS says: “People should only go back to work when it is safe to do so. Everyone’s health and safety must be the top priority.”

The union will meet with the Cabinet Office this week to start looking at the type of things that can be done to ensure that everyone can be safe.

In the meantime, it says its 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.”

The civil service has won awards in the past for its progressive policies on flexible working, including remote working. The move comes as many leading employers have announced that they have no plans to force employees back to the office against their will. Google announced, for instance, that its workers will have the option to stay working from home until July next year. Parents expressed concerns after Boris Johnson’s announcement given that many are finding it hard to find childcare over the summer holidays. The Federation of Small Businesses says many small business and self-employed communities rely on commuter footfall and staff being in offices, particularly those based in big cities.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Employment Studies says approximately eight people are claiming benefits support for every job opening, up from 1.5 people per job before the crisis began in March.


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