Make workplaces safe first! (John Moloney's column)

Submitted by AWL on 28 April, 2020 - 12:09 Author: John Moloney
Passport service

We’re still waiting for a response from the civil service to our proposals for what employers should do in cases of some who might be affected by the virus.

We made various demands about the isolation and closure of workspaces; we were promised a response this week, but that’s now been delayed.

For the past fortnight we’ve been holding off bosses’ plans to increase staffing levels in the workplace itself in the Passport Office. There’s currently a 17.5% staffing level in the workplace, and bosses want to ramp that up to 25%.

They want to clear a backlog of applications, but on the whole that’s clearly non-essential work. We’ve managed to hold them off until now, but they are now insisting that workers return to the workplace. The union has issued advice to all members who’ve been instructed to return around their legal rights to refuse to work in unsafe conditions, and making clear we’ll support them if they do that.

This is part of wider plans, we fear, throughout the civil service to bring more workers back to work. There’ll be an emergency session of our National Executive Committee this week to discuss that.

Our current stance is that no one should be in the workplace if they can work from home, and that work must be brought to the worker at home rather than the worker goes to the workplace.

In some departments, there is growing pressure from managers on people who are isolating or distancing at home, for example due to having underlying conditions, to return to work. Overall it’s clear that civil service bosses are planning for a substantial return to the workplace. Indeed they are planning to be ready for this from 11 May.

We are clear that there can be no mass return to the workplace until it is safe.

• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity

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