PCS has communicated our “Five Tests” to the Civil Service. These are: No wider return until communities are safe; workplaces must only be for essential work; workplaces must be safe places; staff must be individually assessed; and outbreaks must be controlled.
We need to make these demands, and the details beneath the headlines, known and understood amongst the membership — and, crucially, discuss throughout the union how we respond if the employer fails to meet these tests. A national ballot for industrial action is not a practical proposition in the here and now; it would simply take too long to allow for action to be organised to the necessary timescale. Workers can and should use Section 44 of the 1996 Employment Rights Act, and other health and safety legislation, if they are pressured to work in an unsafe way.
Currently, there is no push from the civil service centrally to bring people back to offices. The employer is happy to maintain homeworking, something that our members overwhelmingly support.
This does present some challenges, however. As homeworking continues, the employer may use that to widen and accelerate their programme of office closures. If buildings are sold off, and work is concentrated into large centres, that could be an increased infection control risk in any future outbreak if and when workers do return to offices. So that’s an additional argument for opposing office closures.
There are some exceptions to the current position of favouring the continuation of homeworking, such as the Ministry of Justice, which wants to bring more workers back to the workplace. Most departments, though are proceeding cautiously and there is no “back-to-work” lurch as yet.
The union will launch a “Dying to Work” campaign on 15 June, focused on outsourced workers. One of the key demands of that campaign will be for a permanent agreement for full sick pay from day one for all outsourced workers, which has also been taken up elsewhere by other unions and campaigns, including the Safe and Equal campaign. We have reached out to the TUC on this as well, because this needs to be a campaign across the whole labour movement.
• John Moloney is assistant general secretary of the civil service union PCS, writing here in a personal capacity.