At Trinity House, an HMRC workplace in the north west, a worker was diagnosed with Covid-19. The bosses only moved people from their immediate team.
The local union demanded that the building be shut entirely and deep cleaned. Management initially refused, so the union issued an ultimatum, and management agreed to shut the building.
We now have an issue with the Passport Office, where the employer wants to bring large number of workers back into the office to do routine work, despite the fact that very little international travel is taking place presently.
Obviously we have huge concerns about this. Union pressure has succeeded in budging management from their initial position, which was that the workers must report to their workplace on Tuesday 14 April, to an agreement that they will consult fully with the union before anyone is brought back to work.
We are issuing guidance to all our reps, branches, and workplace groups around the use of union-issued “improvement notices”, which are a means by which reps, particularly safety reps, can identify issues in the workplace which need addressing. If management fail to take action to address them, then workers have the right under law to remove themselves from an unsafe situation or location and refuse to work.
We want to spread that message through the entire civil service and ensure our members are empowered to take those steps where necessary, and have the knowledge and confidence to do so.
That’s especially important now as we may be approaching the peak of the virus, and because some departments, like the DWP, are now recruiting temporary staff. With the addition of workers who’ve been self-isolating or off sick now returning, higher numbers means it may be harder to safely distance in the workplace. If workers cannot maintain safe distancing at work, they shouldn’t be in the workplace.
The Welsh government has passed legislation stating that the two-metre distancing rule must be maintained at work, so a key part of the role for workplace organisation is to police that, and ensure that bosses are complying with it and not cutting corners.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.