The government has announced a target of 80% of civil service workers to back in the office from the end of September. They want to use the civil service as a beacon for their wider “back-to-work” drive. It’s a crude political gesture, effectively a form of virtue signalling.
Currently, 74% of civil service workers are still working from home, so to go from that to 80% being back in the workplace would be a huge leap. In reality the target is not serious; the government plans to count people who come into the office for just one day a week as part of the 80%. The safety measures the employer has agreed to mean it wouldn’t be possible to accommodate that many people in offices and maintain distancing anyway, but the rhetoric could lead to our members being put under pressure.
The union’s National Executive Committee meets on 9 September, and will decide our collective response. Our policy remains that everyone who wants to continue homeworking should be able to do so, and we’ll reinforce that message. We’ll also remind members of their individual rights, including the right to refuse unsafe work, but we also need to discuss a collective response. One option is to ballot members across departments to see if they’d be prepared to take industrial action against the “back-to-work” push.
We’ve now begun balloting our members at London’s Southbank Centre for industrial action against job cuts, and our dispute at the Tate is continuing. The consultative ballot for action of our members in DWP Job Centres, where management are imposing extended opening hours, concludes on 7 September, and the union’s Group Executive Committee for the DWP will meet the following day to discuss the result and possible next steps. We’re expecting an overwhelming majority to vote for action, so the obvious next step would be a formal ballot for action.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the PCS civil service union, writing here in a personal capacity